Much as we like to define them otherwise after the fact, beginnings are usually somewhat muddled affairs. Take, for example, the origins of the sport of rowing on the Hilltop. Starting in the post-Civil War era, Georgetown students, on at least three separate occasions over a sixty-year period, organized an intercollegiate crew with varying degrees of success. Each time, their efforts eventually fell victim either to a lack of resources or to the eventual turnover of key student leaders.
In 1958, the crew paradigm at Georgetown of starts and stops was about to change forever. First, some context. The latter half of the 1950's were a low point for Georgetown athletics. University leaders had abandoned big-time college football in 1951 and the repercussions affected every other athletic team on campus throughout the rest of the decade.
It was a time of de-emphasis in athletics as the institution's financial support fell further and further behind peer schools. Sports started to disappear from the athletic offerings of the University: wrestling, boxing, and even an early start-up lacrosse team. The remaining long-time major sports of the Hilltop, basketball, track & field, and baseball reached their nadir in these years. The handful of other sports that managed to survive during this period fared no better.
Head coach Don Cadle with class of '61 rowers (from left) Bill Prest, Mike O'Brien, Al DiFiore, Don Whamond
By the fall of 1957, the Russians were about to spark a space race with the United States with the launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite in outer space. The Milwaukee Braves would soon defeat the defending World Series champion New York Yankees in seven games. Elvis topped the charts and, mirabile dictu, the class of 1961 entered Georgetown. It was members of the class of '61 who largely responded to a organizational flyer to form a rowing team to compete against the established squad from neighboring George Washington U. Auspicious as this response may have been, it was a start not unlike all the previous endeavors at Georgetown. Given the past record of rowing initiatives and the austere state of athletic affairs at the time, this new effort could have, perhaps should have, never lasted more than four or five years.
Something happened though that made this venture different. It may have been part of the Kennedy-esque can-do spirit that swept college campuses in the early 1960's. But surely, it was more than that.
To learn what happened with the class of '61 and the rowers that followed them, please join with the community of Georgetown Rowing next September 19-21. Come to campus to hear the story of the modern crew during the 50th anniversary gala weekend. For more information, click this link: Never Row.