Boat-Racing by Amateurs.
"The evils of introducing the professional element into amateur athletics are so great - they are so obvious to those who have dipped into matters of the kind without losing their faculty of criticism in the enthusiasm natural to the pursuit - that the first, the healthful instinct is to cry, Away with it all; give young men their heads; let them go to work without professional guidance and solve the problem as they best can by themselves! This is. however, the dictum of persons like ourselves who are no longer in the actual fight and can afford to assume an impartial and most wise attitude toward the contest, swayed as we are by considerations entirely different from those which met us when, boys in red and blue, we were of the battle.
Could we, however, become young again by virtue of some witch-potion and enter college once more with all the ignorance, liveliness, and ambition to succeed at whatever cost which we find to our surprise in the undergraduates of the present day, would we act so very differently after all? Would we not be charmed as of old by big, useless muscles in the men of our college class who practice daily at the dumb-bells, and prefer unwieldy giants to smaller men with muscles less startling but far greater will-power to punish themselves in the contest? And when it came to preparations for a boat-race against a college with which rivalry, if not exactly deadly, was a tradition of long standing, would it be in us to refrain from securing what advice was possible from professionals who make oarsmanship their means of livelihood? Probably not. Certainly while rowing had a precarious existence at American colleges, and there was no large body of graduate oarsmen on whom to lean for advice and from whom to beg the arduous and ungrateful services of a "coach." it was only human that professionals should be paid to look after the stroke and diet of the crews. Professionals were at least kept out of the boat. There is no record like that of the Brasenose Oxford four in 1824, which contained two college men, a professional, and an outsider of attainments unrecorded by the muse of history.
To the impetuosity of youth rather than the professional element we may ascribe whatever there is bad in the betting that goes on at the college races in the United States. 'Boys will be boys' is a remark which enjoys a perennial popularity in all ages and all lands. The same may be said of the spies that are sent out by two colleges to note the proficiency and faults of the rival crew; it springs from boyishness more than anything else; it is the act of half-men who a few years earlier were reading dime novels, daubing their cheeks with red clay, and lassoing their elders and betters in the semblance of buffalo, or shooting each other with arrows, in the semblance of red men. The precautions taken by each crew, not to allow the other side to see them at their best, may be confidently set down to man's inborn love of outdoing his fellow by sly means as well as by the exercise of power. Every collegian is a Joey Bagstock, who hugs himself if he feels that he is 'devilish sly.'"
Further on he speaks of the merits of the sliding seat.
"If the old idea that putting college men into a boat and making them row ten miles a day without sharp coaching is no longer tenable, still less is it possible to deny the merits of the sliding seat. Hanlan could never have made the time he has without this Yankee notion. It is now frequently balanced on glass balls that permit it to move with the least possible friction as the oarsman stretches forward to grasp the water.
The sliding seat equalizes the men in the boat who differ one from the other in length of trunk and limbs, permitting a man with a short reach to slide a little further than another with long arms, so to catch the water at the same angle and pull through a stroke of the same length. Without the slide no amount of rowing together would equalize the stroke; the short man would have to catch later or finish later than the long man, the result of which is, of course, unsteadiness in the boat and diminution of speed; for racing craft are so narrow that the blow of the blade as it takes water and the jerk as it leaves the surface are enough to give a lurch which causes the oars on the other side to foul at some point on the recover."