Men’s Crew: First Northeastern crew coach made history

Men’s Crew: First Northeastern crew coach made history

By Jewel Della Valle

The skies were overcast and gray that Saturday morning in June 1965, and the 10,000 fans who lined the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia were completely unaware of the rowing history they were about to witness.

In 27 years, no school had ever swept the Dad Vail Regatta, the small college rowing championship of the nation, which means winning the varsity, junior varsity and freshman races.

But that was all about to change as the Northeastern varsity crew positioned its shell with the other boats at the starting line.

A few days earlier, Husky varsity coxswain Frank Baker became sick and Northeastern got approval from Dad Vail officials to let JV coxswain Dave Hingston steer and command both the boats. Before the qualifying races began, head coach Ernie Arlett gave his crew a pep talk.

“Boys, in England we have a saying, ‘move or bust,'” he said. “Do not waste strokes in the trials. Save them for the finals. Row to place, not to win.”

After zipping through the qualifying meets, the freshman boat won its championship race first, then the junior varsity won a half- hour later.

In the varsity race, Northeastern and the other four squads, Rollins, Georgetown, St. Joseph’s and Amherst, fell behind the first-place boat, Marietta, early. With five-sixths of a mile left to go, the other boats had fallen back, but Marietta still led Northeastern by a length and a half.

At 200 yards, the Huskies picked up the pace but trailed by a length. Then ‘move-or-bust’ rang out in their minds, and they pulled even with 20 meters left, and jetted forward to win the race and sweep the Dad Vail Regatta.

“To be honest, it’s sort of a blur to what happened there,” said Roger Borggaard, who rowed in the varsity boat. “It was just pull and watch the guys alongside and slowly, slowly, slowly you started moving on them. I think it went down to the last stroke, it was that close, but Ernie trained us pretty hard; we were in shape to do what we did. Other than that it’s just sort of a blur.”

Sounds like a feat only a crew with years of rowing experience could pull off. But that was not the case with these Huskies.

Prior to beginning training the spring before, not one of these men had seen an oar or sat in a shell. The coach behind this team was Arlett, a man with an extensive rowing history who took a team of absolute novices and turned them into champions in one year.

It all begin in 1964 when student Harry Paulsen approached then-athletic director Herb Gallagher with a petition signed by 1,666 students to start a rowing team. Gallagher delivered the petition to President Asa Knowles, who approved it, and trustee Chandler Hovey, who agreed to fund the squad.

Gallagher was inundated with applications for head coach, but the one that stood out was from Arlett, a professional rower from England who was also a crew coach at Harvard.

“Ernie had just lived a life of rowing and came from original rowing stock,” said Jack Grinold, director of sports information, who has been a fixture in Northeastern’s athletic department for 45 years. “The clincher, and I remember Herb describing it so well, was he calling Tom Bolles, the great god of rowing, who was the athletic director at Harvard. The minute he mentioned Ernie’s name, Bolles went ‘oh no,’ and Herb just said ‘thank-you.’ Nothing more needed, because that was the last guy he wanted to lose, so that was that.”

The winter was spent practicing in the two-man rowing tank in the basement of the Building ‘ Grounds, the form Tufts University Medical morgue.

When spring 1965 rolled around, and the Huskies went into their first race facing steep competition. The schools were Marietta, which had defeated defending Dad Vail champions Georgetown the week before, a formidable Amherst boat and the Harvard third varsity, which was part of the “rowing empire of America,” Grinold said.

The Huskies fell behind in the race, but managed to come back and beat the three boats for the first win in NU rowing history and beginnings of an extraordinary season.

“You have to remember that

Leave a Reply