The Last of the Sculler Coaches

Men's rowing, 1907 V8 team.

Men’s rowing, 1907 V8 team.

After O’Dea’s second and final stint as UW coach, Edward Hanlan “Ned” Ten Eyck was hired as his successor.

Ten Eyck, son of the famous sculler (a scull is a boat where the rower has two oars) and Syracuse University coach Jim Ten Eyck, was lured from a position as coach of the Philadelphia Barge Club by UW Athletic Director C. P. Hutchings.

Ned soon persuaded his father to bring Syracuse University’s crew to Madison in the spring of 1907 – their first trip out of New York state. In a shocker, Wisconsin’s eight defeated the Syracuse varsity by a boat length on Lake Mendota. Stormy conditions on May 20 postponed that race until early in the evening.

At the offset, Syracuse captured the lead and grimly hung on. At half-mile, two smoke bombs wafted skyward from a chemical building, and the spectators were hardly able to see the race for the canopy of darkness; but almost instinctively they knew Syracuse was ahead. Rowing in a flurry of 40 strokes per minute, Syracuse began to show strain at the mile mark. It was here that Ned’s boat unexpectedly came up and rowed abreast. For the next half mile, both clung together. Then the early pace began to tell, and Syracuse wilted under the strain. Oar by oar, Wisconsin inched ahead, until one-fourth mile from the finish, it led by half a boat length.

And when the Badgers went over the line, they were a good full boat length ahead. Wisconsin fans were delirious with joy from the fervor that came when a hometown victory was snatched at the last moment from ignominious defeat. Ned’s Wisconsin frosh, a month later, won their second Poughkeepsie Regatta title with another one-length victory over father Jim Ten Eyck’s Syracuse.

Edward Ten Eyck

Edward Ten Eyck

On March 6, 1908, as the underlying land lease from the university to the boathouse expired, the university negotiated and obtained title to the boathouse and the University Boat-house Company disbanded. The IRAs in 1908 marked the beginning of the betting of the shirts. The cocky Syracuse coxswain Eldridge sauntered up to the Columbia coxswain, W. S. Winslow and persuaded his team to bet their jerseys on the outcome.

After Syracuse won the finals, the Columbia cox jumped into the water, swam over and presented his team’s jerseys. The gesture was followed in the forthcoming years whenever college crews gathered after a race. Wisconsin, who finished fifth in the varsity eights and fourth in the freshman eights that year, would have to wait to claim such a trophy.

Through the 1909 season, the freshman continued to be strong, winning the inter-squad regatta. Despite the strong intramural showing, in the IRAs of July 2, 1909, Cornell oarsmen made a clean sweep of the varsity eights, the freshman eights and the varsity four.

Famous Coach Hiram B. Conibear and his Washington “Sun Chasers” (the “Huskies” after 1922) made their first trip eastward for a two-mile race against Wisconsin on June 4, 1910 and, lost to the Badgers by three lengths. The 1910 IRAs were eventful for Wisconsin, despite a disappointing finish, as the team’s motor launch burned while in storage at the regatta. This boat loss and the two last place finishes by Wisconsin in the varsity and freshman eights at the Poughkeepsie Regatta may have been too much for Coach Ten Eyck, for he resigned by the end of June.

On October 13, 1910, Edwin Regur Sweetland, a former rower at Cornell was named to become the new head crew coach at Wisconsin. E. R. Sweetland was at the time the physical director at the University of Kentucky. Sweetland had rowed in the 5-seat for Cornell, which trailed UW in the Berry Crate race of 1899 and had been Syracuse’s first crew coach, from 1900 to 1903, when he resigned and was replaced by Jim Ten Eyck. By January of 1911, Sweetland announced he was unable to perform at his position.

Dad Vail

Dad Vail

By March of 1911, Harry “Dad” Vail, a former rower, captain (1892-93) and assistant coach at Harvard for seven years, was named crew coach. Vail immediately made an impact on the Badger rowers. The first race coached by Vail was May 27 on Lake Mendota, when UW defeated the Minnesota Boat Club defeated by two lengths. Despite the auspicious start, the 1911 crew was a hard luck team. It set a new four-mile record on Lake Mendota, but when it reached the Hudson, their luck ran out.

The training period on the Hudson was a nightmarish affair with boils, infections and colds decimating the Badger ranks. The crew finally started the varsity race with a freshman substitute at No. 6 because every varsity reserve oarsman was ill. Wisconsin beat Syracuse to finish fourth, inches behind Penn for third place.

The 1912 season was opened with four regulars in the shell. Handicapped by a late start on Lake Mendota, the men were forced to work very hard to round into shape by the necessary time. At the IRA the crew charged hard however, they apparently drifted off direction waiting for the start and were left at the post when others got away, and finished second.

During the late summer of 1914, the medical faculty and athletic council of UW banned crew because of their belief that a 4 mile crew race was dangerous to the health of the student athlete. The Daily Cardinal of September 9, 1914, is referenced by UW historians Curti and Carstensen as being the date the faculty “voted to discontinue intercollegiate rowing.” Walter Camp was a member of a committee in 1893 and 1894 investigating the risks of American football and the founder of football’s All-America selections. Camp’s carefully balanced analysis describes the Wisconsin analysis of 54 oarsmen in total as having been done by Dr. Ehler.

One of the Wisconsin findings was of a so-called athletic heart. The athletic heart was meant to describe an enlarged heart. But Camp goes on to describe the views of Dr. Meylan of Columbia, and as most of the other physicians who have followed the athlete closely, as saying, within reason, a larger heart in a well-trained athlete, like any other developed muscle, is logically larger. In the end, Camp encourages more investigation of the relatively few numbers of athletes rowing to complete the record and place the sport where it belongs at the bar of public opinion.

In 1916 only intramural competition took place, though reports in the school publications indicated even then, that as many as 165 men competed during a single season. Sometime in 1916, the “odd-shaped” Union Boathouse was built near the Union. A motorized launch was kept there and is also the location where lifeguards were stationed.

Men's rowing, 1913 V8 merged team

Men’s rowing, 1913 V8 merged team

The controversy over a four-mile race length continued through the spring of 1917, when the IRA stewards tentatively decided to shorten the length to 3 miles. Syracuse Coach Ten Eyck objected vociferously, in spite of support for a shorter length from the Pacific Coast (which raced a 3 mile course), Princeton (which sought a 2 mile course) and Cornell (which initially agreed with Princeton on a 2 mile course, but soon compromised to 3 miles). Meanwhile, Navy and Wisconsin also held out.

Discussions were rendered moot when Congress declared war on April 6. Many colleges, including Syracuse, suspended athletics of all types. The IRAs were suspended from 1917 to 1919.

Wisconsin’s spring 1921 crew was the first team assembled after the Athletic Council lifted the ban on crew as a major sport (in part because the Poughkeepsie course had been reduced and was now three miles). On June 25, 1921, on Superior Bay at Duluth, Minnesota, six thousand fans, including many Wisconsin alumni, packed the stands to witness an heroic attempt by the inexperienced Badgers to defeat the International Champion Duluth Boat Club on a choppy course. At the signal, Duluth jumped ahead into a half length lead.

Both crews were pulling a 40 stroke pace. Wisconsin gradually pulled up and at the half mile mark the crews were even. The stroke had dropped to thirty-six, and the shells swept neck and neck down the stretch. At the three-quarter mark, the Badgers led by a man. The Duluth aggregation gradually drew up, but Wisconsin held and was only slightly behind. Then within the last 100 yards, the famous Ten Eyck spurt began. UW Coxswain Henley pleaded for more speed, but the Badgers had given their last ounce. Swinging in perfect form, at a terrific stroke, the American Champions crossed the line, winners by a length and a half.

Old followers of rowing claimed that never before had the waters of Superior Bay been cut by oars of a more plucky crew than those of the Badgers. It was no disgrace to the inexperienced Badgers to lose the race, for this same Duluth eight later won both the National and Northwest International Championships, and finished the season undefeated.

In 1923 Wisconsin had a late start in spring practice and a “dearth of material” resulting in two varsity losses, to the Duluth Boat Club on May 26, by a length and a half and to Washington University on June 16, 1923 on a two-and-one-half mile course and three JV losses. Against Washington, the varsity kept abreast of Washington for half of the race until Washington called for increased stroke. The Badgers could not respond. In the last quarter-mile spurt, the Cardinal oars splashed vengeance and succeeded in regaining two lengths but lost by four lengths. The Washington frosh eight also won their race against the Badger frosh. Washington won the Poughkeepsie regatta two weeks later.

Men's rowing, 1927 V8 team

Men’s rowing, 1927 V8 team

In 1924 and 1925 new shells were purchased from George Pocock, the famous Seattle boat-builder and equipped with special out-riggers and oars designed by Coach Vail. The IRA Standards Committee early in January 1925, re-lengthened the Hudson course to four miles. In the 1925 varsity race at Poughkeepsie, Wisconsin staged another startling sprint to finish third behind Washington and Navy crews.

Future Badger Crew Coach Norm Sonju was Captain of the Washington boat that visited Madison in 1927. May 21, 1927, the UW Athletic Department announced the withdrawal of the school from the annual intercollegiate regatta at Poughkeepsie. Finances were probably part of the cause. Also, in the opinion of “Dad” Vail, the varsity crew was “too weak to be a worthy representative of the University at Poughkeepsie.”

In the 1928 season, the crew again was classed as sub-standard and Coach Vail, then suffering from an illness which finally caused his death, was unable to direct the early training. When he did take hold, he was a very sick man, working only on his courage. The crew failed to show Poughkeepsie requirements and shortly before the date for the race, it was decided to withdraw from the regatta. Races, both victories, against the Milwaukee and Minnesota Boat Clubs afforded this crew its only competition this season. In August 1928, Coach ‘Dad’ Vail died at age 69 as the oldest crew coach in the U.S.

Crew Art. 1911 Badger Yearbook, pg 211

Crew Art. 1911 Badger Yearbook, pg 211