By John M. Duarte (Published Fall 2007)
Rowing happened in Morgantown early on. Although we do not have many details as to what competitions might have happened here, the river and all activities surrounding the Monongahela figured prominently in the life of the city since it’s founding. Life was tied to and dependent on the river for communication and transportation of people and goods. According to Willem (Vim) Van Eck, former WVU professor and a founder of MRA, Morgantown newspapers mention rowing races during the 1880’s, and in 1894 the first edition of WVU’s year book “Monticola” features a photograph of both a men’s and a women’s crew team.
Modern rowing re-started in Morgantown in 1966 with the formation of the Mountaineer Rowing Club (MRC), reorganized in 1975 as Monongahela Rowing Club and renamed Monongahela Rowing Association (MRA) in 1982. MRC secured the services of a retired veteran rowing coach, J. Clarke Wray, to come to Morgantown and coach the first Crew during the 1975-76 year. A Crew of WVU students initiated intercollegiate competition in 1976. In 1978, WVU students formed the affiliated WVU Rowing Club. Rowing in Morgantown and at WVU has had it’s up’s and down’s. Today Men’s Crew is still a Club sport at WVU and affiliated with MRA. Women’s Crew has become a fully supported WVU collegiate athletic program. The city of Morgantown boasts a new Boathouse and docks, shared by WVU Crew and MRA.
Rowing is the tale of one of the oldest sports in the world. What began as a method of transport and warfare eventually became a sport. From competing to be the first in delivering a product to market to simply racing for the sake of it or to prove one’s superior ability. Whenever man has depended on an activity for living, it eventually was turned into a sport; think Roman Chariot racing, Middle Ages Jousting, or more recently Bootleggers Smuggling which originated Stock Car Racing in the USA. (Duarte)
Even since the earliest recorded references to rowing, the sporting element has been present. An Egyptian funerary inscription of 1430 BC records that the warrior Amenhotep (Amenophis) II was also renowned for his feats of oarsmanship. In the Enid, Virgil mentions rowing forming part of the funeral games arranged by Aeneas in honor of his father.
In the 13th century, Venetian festivals called regata included boat races among others. Nowadays, rowing competitions are still called regattas (English spelling).
The first known ‘modern’ rowing races, began from competition among the professional watermen that provided ferry and taxi service on the River Thames in London. Prizes for wager races were often offered by the London Guilds and Livery Companies or wealthy owners of riverside houses. During the Nineteenth Century these races were to become numerous and popular, attracting large crowds. A contemporary sporting book lists 5000 such matches in the years 1835 to 1851. Prize matches amongst professionals similarly became popular on other rivers throughout Great Britain in the Nineteenth Century, notably attracting vast crowds on the Tyne. The oldest surviving such race, Doggett’s Coat and Badge was first contested in 1715 and is still held annually from London Bridge to Chelsea.
Amateur competition in England began towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. Documentary evidence from this period is sparse, but it is known that the Monarch Boat Club of Eton College and the Isis Club of Westminster School were both in existence in the 1790s. The Star Club and Arrow Club in London for gentlemen amateurs were also in existence before 1800. At the University of Oxford bumping races were first organized in 1815 while at Cambridge the first recorded races were in 1827. The Boat Race between Oxford University and Cambridge University first took place in 1829, and was the second intercollegiate sporting event (following the first Varsity Cricket Match by 2 years). The interest in the first Boat Race and subsequent matches led the town of Henley to begin hosting an annual regatta in 1839.
In America, there is also a sizable rowing community. Ports such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia required the building of many small rowing boats, and competition was inevitable. The first American race took place on the Schuylkill River in 1762 between 6-oared barges. As the sport gained popularity, clubs were formed and scullers began racing for prizes. Professionals were rowing against clubs and each other before the civil war. Races were often round trips to a stake and back, so that the start and finish could be watched. The public flocked to such events, and rowing was as popular in America during the 1800s as other professional sports are today. In 1824, ferrymen from the Whitehall Landing at Manhattan’s Battery raced a crew from the British frigate HMS Hussar for $1,000. Thousands bet on the event and the Americans won. In 1843, the first American college rowing club was formed at Yale University. The Harvard-Yale Regatta is the oldest intercollegiate sporting event in the United States having been contested every year since 1852 (except for occasional breaks due to major wars, such as World War II and the US Civil War). The oldest inter-high school competition in the United States also occurred on the water, in the form of a race in six man boats between two New England boarding schools: Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, and Phillips Academy Andover in Andover, Massachusetts. The oldest continuous rowing club in America is the Detroit Boat Club, in Detroit, Michigan. (Wikipedia)
Today rowing is an amateur sport and an Olympic event. Pierre de Coubertin who created the modern Olympics, modeled the International Olympic Committee on the Henley Stewards. The stewards organize the Henley Royal Regatta, one of rowing’s most prestigious events.
FISA, the “Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron” in French (or the English equivalent International Federation of Rowing Associations) was founded by representatives from France, Switzerland, Belgium, Adriatica (now a part of Italy) and Italy in Turin on June 25, 1892. It is the oldest international sports federation in the Olympic movement.
FISA first organized a European Rowing Championships in 1893. An annual World Rowing Championships was introduced in 1962. Rowing has also been conducted at the Olympic Games since 1900 (canceled at the first modern Games in 1896 due to bad weather). (Wikipedia)