HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The Early Years as told by Jon "Chudwell" Morgan
Jon Morgan is one of the original founding members of the team, spanning back to 1988. Below is his account of how the team was started and got on track to becoming what we have today.
The inaugural Clemson University Rowing Association in the late fall of 1988. It was a whirlwind of a start-up, but it has lasted through the good times and the tough times.
Basically, we had a core group of very dedicated founders. That first group (fall of 1988), was somewhere around 8 students. Several had rowed at the high school and college level, but most of them were just curious for something new to do. We had Lake Hartwell, and little else. The campus recreational center had six ergs, Concept 2 model B. We made up "Clemson Crew" sweatshirts before we even had a boat!
In late fall ’88, a flyer was stapled up all around the campus at kiosks and on bulletin boards. It had a photo cut from a Concept 2 advertisement, and a drawing of a bird’s eye view of an 8 man boat. It announced the first meeting (time, location, and Phil’s phone number). It was held in an auditorium, probably in Lee Hall, since Phil Pyle (first President) was an architecture major as I remember. The first meeting was held early into the spring ’89 semester. 47 names made it onto the first CURA phone list (see list at bottom of this report).
Some of the founders (and then officers) were masters of organization. They quickly developed a team business plan or constitution that stated our goals and our rules. The team is so large now, that some of the officers are also student body officers. This is a good asset to the team.
Early on, there were many members that wanted “VARSITY” status. I personally never wanted the club to evolve into that realm. With that title also comes the loss of control, and loss of freedom. It is fortunate that when the varsity women’s team was started, that the club remained as well. Our operational motto was basically “All are invited to come and row with us”. Yes, we will be competitive, but we will not drop you because you are not the strongest performer. Yes, the better rowers will be combined together in the most competitive boats. Yes, they will have the better choice of schedule times to utilize equipment and coaches training. But, you will not be denied the right and ability to row. There is room for any dedicated person on the team.
The officers posted flyers all over campus. It had an interesting graphic with a lot of information on contacts, and date and time for the first meeting. The "general interest meeting" was held about a month after the flyers were posted, and it yielded a pretty good number of folks. Actually, that flyer graphic was not even a picture of a boat, it was cut from a Concept 2 advertisement of a “crazy guy” on a C2 erg. Somehow, it worked.
At the first meeting, the officers had organized the first month’s practices to be running every morning, starting the very next morning, 2 miles per day for a week or two, then 5 miles the next 3 weeks or so. The first practice was the very next morning. Remember, we didn't have boats or oars yet. We made the runs fairly competitive. Reason one: to get everybody into aerobic shape to prepare that they would not cramp up in a boat later. Reason 2: to weed out the folks that were not truly dedicated or dependable. That turned out to be a good litmus test. Missing a practice without clearing it with the officers was grounds for dismissal.
First practice: 6:00am, morning after the first meeting. Gathered at the Fike Rec Center parking lot for 15 minutes of stretching and calisthenics. The females would start the run (2 minute head start or so). Then the guys would take off. The run was one big loop that ended up back at Fike parking lot (in back of Library, around President’s Mansion, in front of Bowman Field). Phil ended it up with organized, group stretches and calisthenics until the last runners show up. He told is that he was glad that they came, and hoped to see them again the next morning. There were some people who had never participated in a team sport in their life. There were some out-of-shape folks who were there for a team related means to lose weight and get in shape. Of course, there were also some remarkable athletes that inspired the “rest of us”. There were former swimmers, runners, soccer players, and also some representatives of the military.
After practice, a group of us would usually end up going to Harcomb Dining Hall right after practice, while our heartbeats were still racing and clothes were dirty and sweaty. We quickly developed into somewhat of a co-ed “fraternity”.
After the first few weeks of practices, we had almost 50 very dedicated people that were still showing up every day. Our first President was a tenacious guy (Phil Pyle). He yelled and screamed all the time, but a lot of people needed that in order to get motivated early in the morning. He was tough, but had no rowing experience. He made some tough rules and held them strictly. “If you missed one practice without clearing it with me first, you were off the team”. But he never made somebody feel badly just as long as they were trying their best, even if they fell way behind in the run and got nauseous. I was an awful runner at first, but within 3 months I was running a 5:50 mile for up to 5 miles at a time. That was a great accomplishment for me. Phil was tough, and was part of the reason I was able to make the progress that I did.
When running got to be too boring, we started adding in running hills and stadium steps. We ran the whole lower deck of Death Valley as a team…twice. It really burns your quads and your calves. Excellent exercise for rowing! We would form groups of a dozen or so members and then sprint as a group up the steepest hill on campus, walk back down and do it over and over again until our knees went limp (“Dike” runs).
We borrowed 20 oars from UTC (Coach Robert “Espy” Espeseth), we bought a very old wooden 4 from Duke, and a fairly ragged out 8 from another school. We eventually bought another used 8.
At first, we kept the boats on sawhorses on the partially sheltered sidewalk at the East Bank area. We didn’t have a dock, so we walked the boats into the water. This was mid-winter, and sometimes the early rowers would have to break through a thin layer of ice at the shore to set the boat into the water. I gained a love of long hot showers, trying to revive cold and numb toes. Of course, the East Bank had trucked-in sand, and that ended up getting all over the equipment and us too.
When we came back from summer break ’89, I had been working in Boston Massachusetts as a clam baker. One of my life-long friends had a very bad motorcyle accident, and was nearly killed. Fortunately, he was able to walk by the end of the summer. That first weekend that he could drive a car, we decided to drive his RX-7 to New Hampshire and back. We met other friends up there, and decided to get tattoos for the heck of it (why else would we do that?). So I quickly designed a graphic with Tigger the Tiger holding oars on his shoulder. When I returned that Fall, everybody went nuts over it. Tattoos were also an up and coming college fad, so it took off from there. It seems that at least 50 crew members must have tattoos by now. Normally, it is the tiger paw and crossed oar design. Ben Ackerman has a funny one: Rocky the Squirrel with an oar (he earned the nick name Skwerly early on).
Then came the crew nicknames. I am AKA “Chud”. Long story. Cam is “C-Bone”. Cam’s first tattoo was “Eddie“. Steve is “Stavros”. Kevin is “Webby”. Ted is “Lumpy”. David is “Sharpie”. Ginger was “Sparky”. Susan was “Wombat”. Rich Albers is the original “Rico”. Rich Zaide inherited that nickname a few years later. Doug Long is “Tubie”.
We put an ad in the paper for local folks that could donate materials to make docks. We went to a local marina, and they donated a coaches’ launch (john boat) and a motor. They painted it bright orange, and labeled their business name on the side. We later took old or broken rowing equipment to a local men’s store (M.H. Frank). They used them for props in the front window, and gave us a donation. We “donated” an old wooden oar to the Esso Club, and they gave us a donation. We sold CURA t-shirts and Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the student dorms for fundraisers. I even made CURA logo watches one year. They sold out quickly. Rowers gave them to parents as gifts. I ordered them from one of those logo companies that advertised in airline magazines.
We started a Rent-a-Rower program. Local folks would give a donation in return for help from the team. We raked leaves, and did other big chores for people who needed large amounts of help for a short amount of time. Bob Brookover and Lumpy (Ted Annet) continued to work for one of our “customers” for years.
We held annual Erg-athons on football homecoming weekend. Place 2 to 4 ergs downtown, and organize a rotating shift of members to keep them spinning for 48 hours. They get donations from passers-by, and also pledges of donations from family, friends and businesses.
We developed our team logo (tiger paw with crossed oars) early on too. That is a big motivator. We sold t-shirts door-to-door in the student dorms. We set up booths at campus events to give information, and sell more shirts.
One thing that we were particularly proud of was the inaugural Sweatshirt. Phil and the others designed a very nice one. Navy blue with orange sewn-on letters, not screen-printed. These were only offered to the first year folks, and only after they had made the “cut”, and had proved that they weren’t there only to get the shirt. These were made for less than $40 each, and will last a lifetime. We still wear them to special gatherings.
Phil went one step further. He emphatically stated that “this sweatshirt is only for the first-year members of this team. It will never be made again. I have contacted the shop that made them and told them to never reproduce it. Only you people may wear it. Not your girlfriend, or boyfriend. Not your mother, nor your sister. If I walk into a grocery store, and see your grandmother wearing it, I will kick her ass and take it from her. That is how much this group and this first year means to me. This shirt is a sign that you helped to start this team…” Phil was a very intense guy, and that was the way he operated. People were critical of him, but the results were there. Yes, he may have turned some people off, but the team “worked”. How could you argue with that?
The next year came the gray/screen-printed sweatshirts that have been made ever since the second year. They look great too. We only sell them to rowers, not for fundraising or gifts. I still wear my gray one all the time, and only wear the navy one occasionally.
Around the campus and the town, there were some naysayers, and opponents of the team. We quickly became a HUGE team (120 members in the fall, 40-60 in the spring). We were able to take a big chunk out of the university student club fund. People resented that. They were jealous. We didn’t waste our time dealing with silly issues and negative people. We got what we could, and used it wisely. This sport demands that you buy good equipment. You must maintain that equipment to the best of your ability. That didn’t come cheaply.
Phil went to Frank Howard, the famous retired Clemson football coach, and “Godfather” of Clemson athletics in general. He wanted to get Coach Howard’s opinion of a rowing team at Clemson. You see, Coach Howard had once been credited with the quote,” I won’t support any sport where you sit on your ass and go backwards”. It was a classic Howard quote, and got printed in several sports publications. After Phil talked with him, however, he actually gave us some verbal support, and appreciated the consultation.
We found out that somebody had actually tried to start a crew team 10 years before we did. It was not successful at getting a good start, and quickly dissolved when its originators graduated. We wanted CURA to last long after we left. Even now, we are all very happy (some of us are shocked) that it has lasted this long, and that it has gotten bigger and better every year.Now that we have several “generations” of alumni, we try to keep in touch by sending out a seasonal newsletter, and posting stuff on the CURA website. The fundraising committee figured out a way for us to donate to the team through the University so that it is tax-deductible, and also so that our employers can do “gift matching” if they have that option. That makes it much more appealing. Eventually, I am sure that a group of us will get together and donate a set of oars (over $1000) or even a boat (over $10,000) one day. Hint, hint…
Our dues were $120 in the fall semester, and maybe that much or less in the spring. Due prices included individual memberships to USRowing. The team joined everybody up. This was necessary to qualify us for USRA sanctioned regattas, and they sent each member a membership card and the periodical magazine.
Parents continue to be the largest group of contributors. They have made banners for us, magnetic signs for the rental truck when we went to regattas. They offered their homes to us when we were travelling, they fed us, and helped us financially too.
When we would get a “new” boat (new to us at least), we made a party/ceremony of choosing the name for the boat. Paint the name on the bow and present the newly named boat at a special practice or regatta. We named our first boat “Beth O.” after a girl who had been one of the first to join that core group of officers. Sadly, she was killed in an accident during the Christmas break. However, we had not even held our “general interest meeting” yet, so it had an effect on the core group, who were able to go on in memory of her. Of course, boats can have fun names too, such as “Hell for Leather”. Or maybe the name of a person/business that gave a generous contribution.
Our first lightweight 4 boat was a Kaschper. We loved that boat. We also had a Kaschper 8. Unfortunately, some early morning rows were in the fog, and the coxswain’s vision was impaired. We damaged at least one boat per year due to low visibility and carelessness. Old Mr. Kaschper makes the boats, and young Mr. Kaschper repairs them in London, Ontario. We made a few weekend road trips to Ontario to let young Kaschper repair them, then we would have to return several weeks later to pick them up. That road trip was actually kind of fun. We had members whose parents lived in Michigan, Ohio, and New York. We would drive straight up to London on Friday, wait for Kaschper at his shop Saturday morning, and then drive to NY or Michigan and crash Saturday night at the friend’s house. Then, drive back to Clemson by late Sunday night.
We held weekly meetings (8pm, Wednesday nights) in a Lee Hall classroom the first year. Then we moved over to a Bracket Hall classroom for a short while, and then to the P&A building (2 auditoriums). Now, I believe that we are back in Bracket, in the auditorium. These usually lasted about an hour. We were required to complete one erg “piece” each week before the meeting. That would be a recorded time for a set distance (2000m, 2500m, 5000m, or more). We had to submit these times to the coach at the meeting. This was very encouraging. Then each officer would go over his or her agenda for that week. Announced practice schedules, changes, equipment availability, fund raising progress, etc…
We ran in the annual local 5K and 10k races (Winter Road Warrior Run, sponsored by the Esso Club). Pairs of members would carry an oar through the entire race. This was a novelty for a while. It was good exposure if nothing else.
We all competed as Novice that first year. We went to Duke in March for our first regatta after starting the team in January. I don’t recall winning any races, but it was fun, and we learned a lot. As far as that goes, we tried to attend all regattas that we could. Racing was very essential to the learning process. We learned how to perform together under pressure, when it really mattered. Also, I wish that we had taken more photographs than we did.
Of course, all organizations on campus required having a faculty advisor. Ginger Foulk happens to be a Clemson employee now and serves as the advisor for CURA. A former advisor was Meminger (Mem) Wiggins, now a lawyer in the upstate.
Our reward to ourselves was taking a Spring Break trip to Florida. Our first destination was Deland, near Daytona. One of our members had a vacation cabin there. There was a moistened body of mud and water (called a “pond” in the wet season) next to the cabin. It quickly became the choice spot for impromptu baptisms. “Was that a snake, or a stick?”
There are always regattas in Florida around spring break time, in Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville.... It’s great to have a regatta planned for both weekends of the break. We spent the middle of the break near a lake or other navigable water area. Row all day, party all night. Planned right, it can be done cheaply and also be a blast. In later years we developed a good relationship with the University of Tampa. They let us row from their docks. We stayed at a hotel very close to their boat house. Normally, Yale University rowing team was lodging at the boathouse (stuck up ivy league pukes). We let the town of Tampa know that we were there by painting Clemson and CURA logos on bridges along the intercoastal waterway there. Oh the stories from Spring Break. Key words: “A whooping and a womping!” &”Dallas and Junior”(ask Castles, and Loughren). “I’m going to jump!” (ask Poelke). “Bogging” (ask any of the 1st year guys). “I am never going to drink again” (ask anybody, especially Jordan), starting fights with big black football players (Jordan, Loughren).
All in all, this will result in one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. You will make the strongest bonds of friendship with these people. You will one day attend their weddings, and will hold their children. You might even marry one. For over 10 years now, my rowing teammates are still my best friends. We go to extreme lengths to keep in touch and to visit whenever possible. We maintain our tailgating spot at all Clemson home football games. We email almost every day. They still encourage me. The best is when you bump into one at some airport or at some other event in the middle of nowhere. You’ll see.
Again, I am glad to see that the sport is growing at Clemson University. It is an Ivy League sport, but we always considered ourselves "kudzu" league rowers. Row hard. Play hard.
BS, Mechanical Engineering, 1994
Founding Member, CURA