One of the longest standing traditions in rowing is to toss the coxswain, who directs the boat during a race, into the river after a victory.
After July 1, the crew and rowing teams will never get that opportunity again.
On Dec. 6, Athletic Director Kevin Clark announced the elimination of seven sports, including women’s rowing and men’s crew, which will take effect this summer.
In late December, President Neil Theobald wrote an Op-Ed in the Inquirer outlining inadequate facilities and Title IX compliancy issues as one of the factors for the cuts.
For about five years, two tents, guarded by a fence, have been home to the teams’ boats, oars and personal belongings. The tents sit next to the East Park Canoe House, the former home of the Owls until the building was condemned in 2008.
However, both teams had hoped for a new boathouse. The university submitted a proposal for one to the Philadelphia Commission on Parks and Recreation in October 2012.
The same proposal was then withdrawn in April of last year, which meant the continuing use of the tents.
“Obviously, if we had showers or bathrooms, running water, heat – all these things would make the situation better, but I do not think at any point this situation had held us back,” Moira Meekes, a junior rower, said.
Sophomore rower Stephanie Barber said she had been visiting her sister’s Temple races on the Schuylkill River since her junior year of high school.
“I have been all throughout these tents,” Barber said. “I had many years to think about whether I wanted to be in there or not, and that didn’t affect me at all.”
Women’s rowing coach Rebecca Grzybowski was well aware of the conditions when she was appointed to the position about two-and-a-half years ago. But she said it wasn’t something that deterred her team.
“Facilities aside, I mean, we could have lived in tents for another 10 years and continued to grow the team and the program and have more success than we had ever had in the history of the program,” Grzybowski said.
During a monthly compliance and coaches meeting in early fall, Grzybowski said the athletic department told the entire coaching staff that the two main priorities for the university were a football stadium and a boathouse that would cost between $8-10 million.
“The thought of our program being cut was so far off my radar,” Grzybowski said. “To be told that you are one of the two priorities for the entire athletic department makes you feel like OK, we’ve got total support and we are going full steam ahead and everybody is behind us 100 percent. So that’s partly why it came as a complete and total shock to the program.”
Kelsey Franks, a recruited sophomore for the women’s rowing team, said she was also shocked by the news. Franks said administrators often reassured her coach about a boathouse, causing her to pass that same hope onto the team.
“So honestly, we could all picture the boathouse,” Franks said.
Even though Athletic Director Kevin Clark had been analyzing the athletic department’s budget for almost a year, the rowing teams were still receiving approval to purchase new equipment.
Grzybowski said two new boats arrived in September: a Hudson eight-person and a four-person boat costing upwards of $60,000.
“They are literally the most beautiful boats that I have ever seen and then we are not going to be able to do anything with them next year,” Barber said. “So that was very disheartening that they would put forth so much money for these expensive, beautiful boats that were actually tailored to be our colors.”
A university spokesperson pointed to the fact that the cuts weren’t finalized at the time the boats were ordered, calling the purchase of the boats an “easy decision.”
Grzybowski said on Dec. 5, a day before the cuts were announced, she received approval to purchase 11 brand new rowing machines. On Jan. 6, the rowing machines arrived. Although the men’s team did not get new aid this year, 34th-year coach Gavin White said his team received new oars.
Along with new equipment, the crew and rowing teams received new personnel and clothing. In addition, a new full-time assistant coach from Boston, Brian DeDominici, started in October.
“We got new uniforms,” crew co-captain Fergal Barry said. “We got a whole new weight training staff, and in my opinion, it’s the best since I have been at Temple and we all enjoyed working with them. We got our own athletic trainer this time around as well just for crew. [We] had gotten new lifting coaches and we were working well with the lifting coaches and we got new pants and new hoodies and a lot of fancy stuff.”
White said that the lack of a boathouse hardly fazed his team.
“We have always tried to approach it with this attitude: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’” White said. “We don’t dwell on it, the kids don’t dwell on it either. We get there at six in the morning, get the boats and we go.”
Barry said the team has a “fantastic facility” in McGonigle and Pearson which includes a sizable gym, a weight room and an erg room, which houses the rowing machines.
The on-campus facility, some on the team say, made up for the lack of a boathouse.
Though the student-athletes say they could have stayed in the tents, Temple was concerned with its standing in the new American Athletic Conference. In a packet distributed to the athletes during the Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 10 were photos of Temple’s facilities next to other colleges and universities in the conference.
Dreary pictures of the nearly dilapidated tents, weathered by the elements, were placed adjacent next to gleaming boathouses on sunny days.
“We’ve grown accustomed to Temple’s disregard for their rowing team, but for Temple to cut seven of their varsity teams, it just shows a disconnect between Clark, Theobald and the true spirit of Temple athletics,” Josh Kuzo, a junior on this year’s crew roster, said in an email. “We’re the underdogs. Temple isn’t Alabama, we’re not Louisville, but we’ve got grit.”
Zephyr Dippel, senior co-captain of the crew team, said it’s disheartening to think of himself as an athlete on the last men’s crew team in Temple’s history.
“It’s like, would you like to be rowing out of tents or would you rather not row at all?” Dippel said. “And obviously I would choose rowing out of tents over not rowing ever.”
Patricia Madej and Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org