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They're All Amateurs in Washington

The Sporting Scene

By James M. Storey

First in war, first in peace, and obviously putting on the EARC regatta for the first time--that's Washington D.C. Not that the Washington Rowing Association, the regatta hosts, did not have the very beat intentions--they were, in fact, pathotically eager to please. But they were bumbling.

Crew is one of the few sports still strictly amateur. But the people who put on regattas usually are pretty professional. They have to be--it's a tremendous job of coordination of details, especially for such a large-scale affair as the Eastern Sprints, with 32 crews rowing in nine races.

But last weekend in Washington the experienced regatta-runners left the job up to the amateurs, and it showed. Washington had been clamoring for a chance to put on the biggest sprint race in the East for a long time.

Finally the EARC ok'd it and the W.R.A. went to work. They enlisted the U.S. Navy to help them arrange the proceedings, taking the Naval Air Station at Anaoostia as the boathouse, storing the shells in the hangars. The Navy arranged for all the proceedings and provided its top brass, Secretary of the Navy Robert Anderson, in his yacht, the Sequola, to present the Rowe Cup and give the Regatta official sanction.

And then of course one can't forget the publicity. Every major hotel in town was housing some crew, and the hoopla and banners turned the Capital into a close facsimile of Princeton or New Haven. One newspaper predicted 200,000 spectators. Arrangements were made for "alumni villages" for all the competing colleges. Hains Point was flooded with Washington cops, beer and hot dog concessions, roped off areas, beflagged grandstands, parking lots, and looked like the site of a state fair. But the W.R.A. was a little too concerned with making a big impression, and proved themselves to be rank amateurs at the job of running regattas.

Take, for instance, the way they handled the actual racing. The crews were treated like kings--buses were always at the service of the various managers. But when the shells went on the water the system began to break down. In the first place, the course was laid out with an eye to spectators rather than the rowing water. The coaches and coxswains were never familiarized with the course until race day. There were no markers set up beyond the finish line for the coxes to aim at and the lanes were never marked. As a result, with a course big enough to accommodate ten or fifteen crews abreast, the six shells racing each other wandered all over the course.

Because of this disorganization, the races were run off late. A further annoyance to the competing crews was the fact that, despite warnings from the Navy, motor boats kept racing across the course, kicking up wakes which bounced back from the seawall at Hains Point and stirred up the usually placid waters just as the crews came past. As one observer on the judges' barge put it, "The only way you can tell a race has begun is when you see a yacht revving up in the middle of the course."

On the judges' barge there was more confusion. While the crews were coming down the course in the day's first heat, somebody discovered that no flag had been provided to mark the finish. By some feverish activity with a penknife and a hammer a suitable flag was hurried together from a piece of canvas and a lath. And when the tide changed, the judges' barge itself began to drift downstream, so that between races the pile of crates which constituted the judges' stand had to be moved bodily from one end of the barge to the other.

For such a big race, so heavily publicized, one important problem that must be taken care of is what to do with the press. Usually, places are assigned in various launches to the correspondents of the major papers, but the W.R.A. provided one barge to accommodate all the judges, 20 sportswriters, four newsreel and over 20 still cameras, and the TV camera. With one Navy lieutenant who knew next to nothing about crew races supervising, the barge was a maelstrom.

But it was fun. The W.R.A. provided a press book which explained to anybody who wished to read it, all about crew. The bow man, it said, was in the first seat in the shell, "in the stern." There were pretty girls perched in conspicuous places with little ribbons pinned to their collars, saying "Hospitality." Nobody ever found out what they were supposed to do or what their signs referred to, however.

The gala atmosphere was certainly evident on Hains Point. There weren't 200,000, but there were about 10,000 spectators, and the fact that many of them knew very little about rowing seemed to make no difference. Those who weren't local inhabitants on an excursion to satisfy their curiosity were Princeton men, decked out in orange pants or yellow coats and whooping it up around the Princeton tent. (There was no Harvard tent at all.) One factor that the W.R.A. had not foreseen was the tide. In the morning the river rose and rose and finally filled all the $2.50 box seats with a foot of water, but this problem did not discourage the hardier spectators. They just took off their shoes, waded in, and got their money's worth. By the afternoon the tide had ebbed, leaving only a sea of squishy mud in the choicest seats.

Nevertheless, the W.R.A.'s efforts were on the whole successful, both financially and otherwise. The sun came out, and everybody was in a good humor. The Hospitality girls were very pretty, the beer was very cold and tasty, the W.R.A. men were very kind, and their earnest efforts afforded much amusement.

And, best of all, despite the confusion and disorganization of the amateur regatta-runners, the amateur Crimson crews performed like professionals.

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