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Coxswains and Crew
Charley Whiteside, admiral of Harvard's eight-oared fleet, bundled himself a little more warmly in his heavy ba-ba coat, and turned to scan with a practised eye the husky and long-legged young gentlemen in the Varsity shell who were pumping down the Charles at a 24-beat-to-the-minute gait, trailing a long white streamer as they went.
He talked for a minute or two through his megaphone, his words carrying out to his charges on a stiff breeze and seemingly booming back from the Boston wall. It sounded something like, "Get more weight behind that catch." He turned again to his interviewer and remarked, "No, rowing isn't everything in a crew race."
The Crimson coach leaned out to bark further instructions, and the CRIMSON reporter waited for the opportunity to press his question. He knew that Whiteside has many gaping voids to fill in his Varsity shell before he'll be ready to match power and skill with the eggshell barks of Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Navy, and the rest. But after all, what is there to this business beside rowing and looking at the neck of the fellow in front of you?
Mr. Whiteside finally was cornered and admitted that he was thinking of the problem that surrounded the selection of the one passenger in the Varsity boat -- the lone member of the crew who doesn't work his way. To the ordinary observers the little coxswain is simply so much excess baggage, probably chosen because his weight is nearest the zero of any of the contenders. They admit that he's the only member of the crew who can see where he is going, and the only one who isn't looking at life backwards during a race. But that just about lets him out.
There's quite a lot more than that to being a coxswain, however, according to no less an authority than Mr. Whiteside who stated quite emphatically that the tiny tikes can make or break a crew. They have to know how to get the most out of the men. A good coxswain must know when to coax and plead with his oarsmen, when to encourage and when to threaten. By his skillfull handling of the tiller ropes he can save precious yards that may mean the difference between victory and defeat in an important race. He must be a strategist. He must know when to coast and when to spurt.
Bissell Has Filled Post
For the past three years Whiteside hasn't been bothered with any coxswain problem. There was always little, blond Hamilton Bissell to sit in the stern of the shell and tell his men this and that. Even now Whiteside's eyes crinkle with a reminiscent smile as he thinks of the manner in which the little fellow bossed those burly giants. Bissell teamed with Stroke Gerry Cassedy for three years, and the two went together like ham goes with eggs. Only once during their four years did Bissell's strategy actually go sour, and that one occasion only served to demonstrate further Bissell's worth to his crew.
Harvard was rowing in the Olympic trials at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, back in the summer of 1932. Bissell, Cassedy, and Whiteside carefully mapped out their plans for the race. They knew that Harvard was primarily a long distance crew. They knew that the Crimson couldn't sustain a high beat for any more than a quarter of a mile. The race was over the Henley distance. They decided to row at a comparatively low stroke for the first mile. Then a quarter of a mile from home, the crew was to throw it in high and let her rip. In other words they were banking on a final roaring spurt down the last stretches.
They noticed a large boulder on the shore of the lake, about a quarter of a mile from home. They decided that when the shell was abreast of that rock they were to skyrocket the beat.
Columbia Race in 1932
Harvard was rowing the Columbia graduates that afternoon. And the Lions were hitting on all eight cylinders. The race got underway. Columbia went ahead a little, but Harvard was not far behind. The Crimson giants were waiting for the proper moment to turn on the heat.
The shells raced past the half-mile and then past the mile. Suddenly Bissell barked out his crisp command. "Up it, Gerry. Send it up." It was the signal to raise the stroke, to start the last big bid.
Cassedy grinned between strokes. For the first time his little coxswain was getting panicky. He was watching for the boulder, and he hadn't seen it. He knew that his crew couldn't maintain a high beat for any great length of time, and he wasn't taking any chances of a break in the boat.
He went along at the same steady pace. Bissell was on the verge of tears in the driver's seat, pleading, shouting, and threatening. But the stroke remained the same. Suddenly Cassedy noticed landmarks that told him he was on the finishing stretch.
He sent the stroke up and up. Harvard surged up almost bow to bow with the Columbians. But the Lions, too, were hitting it up then, and they skimmed over the finish line a scant two feet in the lead. Their victory was a slim one. But it was a victory just the same. Harvard's spurt had been delayed too long.
Cassedy rested wearily over his oar and then looked up at Bissell. "I'm sorry," he said. "I thought we were getting behind and you were becoming panicky. I never did see that rock."
"That's what I was trying to tell you," exploded Bissell. You couldn't see the boulder. It was covered with people. I noticed that going up."
Yessir, those coxswains have to have that certain something. --By TIME OUT.
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