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Life at the Laundermat

By John L. Powers

The bills from Russell Southern Athletic Jersey Co., Brooklyn, N.Y. were staggering: $31.50 every time the Boston University varsity heavies lost a race, $126.00 every time it was a four-race sweep; a potential loss of $598.50 a season in surrendered rowing shirts.

It was too much for a man's patience, really. Ultimately, Boston University decided to substitute "betting" shirts for the more expensive racing tops, but coach Carl Ullrich went to the Naval Academy anyway, after his Terriers had a miserable season and failed to qualify for the Eastern Sprint finals.

Things haven't changed much across the river. Boston University still wears new shirts every Saturday. But down at Annapolis, Carl Ullrich has Charles (Chuck) Munns and a few of his friends rowing for him now, and the only bills he gets are from the Blue and Gold laundry. The Midshipmen tend to hang on to their shirts a little longer than most people.

It hasn't always been this way, of course. After "The Admirals" won three consecutive Adams Cup and Eastern Sprint championships, plus a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics, Navy experienced some relatively lean years. Except for an inspired 1961 group, the Midshipmen hadn't won either title again until last May, and sometimes fell so far behind in Adams Cup races that a man needed binoculars to find them.

Well, those days may be over down at the Severn River. After one year at Annapolis. Ullrich fashioned a Plebe eight that captured the Sprint freshman championship in 1970. From it, he built a comparatively light varsity that snuck past Harvard and Penn last spring, then rebounded from a defeat in the morning trials at Lake Quinsigamond to win the Spring title, breaking a seven-year Harvard monopoly.

Four of those original freshmen. Munns, Larry Doerflein. Dave Murray and John Kiser will be in the Navy shell tomorrow afternoon, along with four sophomores from the Plebe boat that won the Sprint title again last May. It's an effective combination, though Ullrich changes it a little every week.

After the Middies' narrow victory at Cornell last week, he pulled sophomore Bobby Morris out of the JV eight and inserted him in the bow. He also changed the rigging from standard to German, the style that Harvard and Penn use. But regardless of the variables, the boat is consistent, and the major constant is Chuck Munns, a second-classman from Iowa who never rowed before coming East. He comes close to being a 195-pound metronome, able to drive along without deviation from the prescribed cadence, much like former Harvard stroke Geoff Picard.

He is talkative and gregarious, unlike his coach, who rations out words much like the Navy rations bath towels. He is the sort of athlete you want sitting in the stroke seat when Penn starts sprinting on your starboard side, and Harvard takes a quick twenty over to port. Calm, unexcitable.

Munns is not one to get overly concerned about the emotional overtones of an Adams Cup race. "It's a big race, of course," he says, "and it means a lot, especially with three unbeaten boats. But we try to get up for every race, no matter who the opponent. We wanted to beat Princeton because we hadn't since 1961. We knew Cornell would be strong after IRA finals last year. We just naturally assume that every boat in every race has a good chance of winning, and we take it from there."

Ullrich states the same thing for the record, although it is a little difficult to believe that any Academy team is that detached about a major championship in which it is an underdog, however slight. The Brigade goes bananas at wrestling matches, f'crissake, so it's reasonable to assume that they don't care for the idea of a bunch of long-haired Harvard dudes wearing crisp new Academy betting shirts around The Square.

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