The Years of Struggle

Men's rowing, 1929 V8 team

Men’s rowing, 1929 V8 team

From Vail’s death in August 1928, the previous season’s captain, Franklin Orth served as the acting crew coach. George “Mike” Murphy, was hired in December 1928 by AD George Little, and came to Wisconsin from the position of Yale’s freshman crew coach.

In his first season, Washington, Coach Murphy’s alma mater, visited Lake Mendota, and bested the Badgers on their home waters in two-mile varsity and junior varsity events. Some 20,000 spectators, the greatest crowd that ever saw a crew race, lined the Madison shore of the lake.

Later that year, Murphy led the UW crew to a fifth place finish at IRA’s in Poughkeepsie. With the depression of the early ‘30’s, crew was hit very hard from a financial standpoint, no new shells and about one race a season. Controversial UW President Glenn Frank was slashing university budgets and salaries.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

Construction of an inside rowing tank was approved by the Regents but its erection was deferred due to lack of funds. Murphy had no formal coach’s office but used a small cubbyhole on the third floor of the Red Gym.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

George 'Mike' Murphy

George ‘Mike’ Murphy

Money was quite scarce for the program, so they to develop fundraisers. To raise money for the crew’s annual Poughkeepsie expenses, a Button Sale was held during the spring of 1931, and a fund-raising crew race was announced by Franklin Orth, freshman crew coach.

The Prom donated $250. In the fall, ground was broken for the new UW rowing tank. Former Head Crew Coach C. C. McConville organized the Wisconsin Crew Corporation [pdf], (after 1974 the Wisconsin Rowing Association) and the organization was formally incorporated on November 14, 1931.

The financial situation rapidly deteriorated. According to the crew budget published in the 1932 yearbook, revenues for 1931-32 were $0 and expenses were $5,876 (down from an average of $12,000 in each of the three prior years). Wisconsin did not attend the 1932 IRA for lack of financial resources in the Athletic Department’s budget.

The depression and some uneven budget busting by Frank forced the Athletic Department to ask Murphy to take a salary reduction from $5,000 to $1,500. He agreed, so long as either his savings hadn’t run out or the department’s budget didn’t return to surplus, when his salary might be re-instated. For his financial sacrifice, Murphy is credited for keeping alive men’s crew at Wisconsin.

The varsity crew had two races in 1933, both on Lake Mendota against club teams. The crew was deeply disappointed at President Frank’s decision not to allocate any of the university’s budget to support the team’s trip to Poughkeepsie for 1932 and 1933. Fortunately for UW, the 1933 IRA’s were cancelled anyway due to financial hardship. In early 1934 a budget surplus was not shared and Coach Murphy’s savings ran out, causing Murphy resigned to make a better living.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

Ralph Hunn

Ralph Hunn

In August 1934, Ralph Hunn was named head crew coach, the youngest in the nation. Hunn had been named Captain for the 1934-35 season, but was persuaded to coach instead. In his first season, he promoted four races with private boat clubs, all of which Wisconsin won with ease.

On June 29 and 30, 1935, the second National Inter-Collegiate Crew Regatta was held at the Long Beach Stadium in Long Beach, CA. Wisconsin, still short of funds during these depression years, had the non-transportation expenses of the trip were sponsored by W. K. Murphy, a member of the IRA-winning frosh crew of 1900. While practicing, someone invited several Hollywood starlets to visit. June Knight came to the Badger shell and was invited to sit in the coxswain’s seat.

After the experience, several Wisconsin oarsmen thought she should experience the thrill of victory as a coxswain and suggested they throw her in the water. Jack Cole grabbed her wrists and Irving Kraemer, her ankles. On the count of three, Cole let go but Kraemer wasn’t so sure and Knight landed squarely on her rear, after which she gave a blood-curdling stare to all parties. In the Consolation Varsity Race, Wisconsin was second to USC. The disappointment was double because Wisconsin again could not afford to attend the IRA.

In May of 1936, UW crew captain Howard Heun, as President of the Student Board and thus one of that Board’s representatives on the Athletic Board, participated in hiring Harry Stuhldreher as UW’s Athletic Director and head football coach. Stuhldreher was always a strong supporter of men’s crew at UW. Despite the successes of the 1936 season, the crew did not participate in the IRA for the fourth straight year, due to lack of funding.

Wisconsin returned to the IRA’s in 1937, turning in a disappointing seventh place finish. After uneventful 1938 and 1939 seasons, Coach Hunn was released by Athletic Director Stuhldreher on April 30, 1940. It is not clear who lead the UW contingency in the IRA to a disappointing second to last finish.

Allen 'Skip' Walz

Allen ‘Skip’ Walz

In the fall of 1940, Allen Walz was called to Wisconsin as head crew coach. Walz had an interesting recruiting method. He would go to basketball practice and every time a man was cut from the basketball squad, Walz would talk to him about crew. Over the winter, Carl A Holtz [pdf], who had tried out for the UW football team, was spotted by Coach Walz while taking a physical education class at the armory. Holz would later prove to be Walz’s best recruit.

In order to save money travelling to Puoghkeepsie for the 1940 IRAs, Roy Rom, at Coach Walz’s suggestion, hid in the coaching launch, which was loaded onto the baggage car along with the shells and gear. He then rode the train all the way to Poughkeepsie, a two-day trip. He had also made a deal with Walz to train the reserves in the “pickle boat” (the practice boat), wash dishes and set the tables for the crew.

On the Hudson a few days before the June 25th IRA, a boat of mostly UW coxswains won the first annual coxswain’s race of one half mile in a four-oared gig. Ed Chudik, a reserve oarsman from the freshman eight, suffered from poison ivy contracted while painting a huge red “W” on the rocks on the western shore of the Hudson River.

Coach Walz had a great touch for publicity and tricks. Examples of his touch for publicity included Walz’s inviting Lou Nova, a fighter scheduled to meet Joe Louis in a challenge for the heavyweight championship in September, to train with UW’s “pickle boat” and then inviting four sportswriters, including New York Times’ sportswriter Allison Danzig, to row in the “pickle boat” with Nova. As for tricks, Walz had the crew rub down at least the varsity boat with graphite for better speed on the water.

George Rea

George Rea

In the IRA varsity eight contest, Wisconsin finished sixth. Wisconsin’s frosh eight, with Carl Holtz and coxed by Robert Moore, came in second in Poughkeepsie, a length and one-half behind Cornell. “Cookie” Moore was spotlighted in the Capital Times of early May, 1942. Holtz said Moore just sits there and cracks jokes for the oarsmen.

The article goes on to describe how the rowers, finishing their showers before Moore had finished strapping the shell away for the night, had locked up all of Moore’s clothes and left him alone in the armory. Moore eventually had to sneak around the corners until he found a phone and put in a call for help from his fraternity brothers.

In 1942, the Badgers took second in the Adams Cup Regatta in Boston. This was the Wisconsin varsity’s lone race this season, in a war-curtailed sport. On May 12, the IRA announced cancellation of the 1942 Poughkeepsie Regatta.

In the fall of 1942, Walz took a leave of absence from UW and joined the Navy as a PT boat skipper in WWII. The IRA’s were cancelled from 1942-46 because of the conflict.

George Rea coached the team from December 1942 to June of 1943. A UW rower, Rea was awarded the George I. Gross Trophy in the spring 1942 for his leadership in a strong performance against Harvard in the Adams Cup on the Charles River. UW only had a frosh team in 1943, which had four club races, losing only one. Rea left for a job at the Douglas Aircraft Company after graduation in June of 1943. After the season, Junior rower Roy Rom, and Curt Drewes, boat-builder, handled the decreased crew activity for the for remainder of 1943. Rom only coached for weeks, as he joined the Army Air Corps in January, 1944.

Curt P. Drewes

Curt P. Drewes

Curt Drewes, UW’s rigger from 1939-1976, succeeded Rom. In the few months before Drewes entered the Coast Guard, the team went to two regattas and won both of them, and Drewes retired as the only undefeated crew coach in the history of the University of Wisconsin.

The seasons of 1944 and 1945 were devoid of crew competition, although in some isolated cases rowing enthusiasts used the equipment for informal practice.

UW Coach Walz returned from the Navy in late ’45 and started rebuilding the crew for the 1946 season. Most of the crew members of 1941 and 42 had returned from the service and Walz soon had a fine crew in the making. Because Roy Rom accepted some pay in the fall of 1942, he was no longer eligible to compete, but Walz put him on as his assistant.

In the spring of 1946, Ralph Falconer stopped by basketball Coach Bud Foster’s office to try out for basketball. The office was shared by Foster and Coach Walz. With Foster out, Walz seized the opportunity to snare the lad. UW’s coxswain, Carlyle Fay found his way onto the crew through Falconer, his roommate.

For the first time ever for a Badger athletic team, the UW crew flew on May 9th to Annapolis for the May 11th regatta. Due to limits in shipping space, the UW crew rowed all it’s away races in shells on loan from other schools this season. This did not prove detrimental in the least. The varsity startled its followers by winning their first major regatta crown in Badger history, a May 11th victory at the first Eastern Sprints (then variously called the “Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Regatta” or the “Eastern Intercollegiate Regatta”) on a 1 3/4 mile course on the Severn River in Annapolis.

Wisconsin then won the Rowe Cup at the Eastern Sprints. Later in the spring, Wisconsin attended the 12th Annual Scholastic Rowing Regatta in Philadelphia, where Wisconsin’s crew almost experienced another “berry crate” incident. A dredge, anchored at the quarter-mile mark forced cox Carlyle Fay to steer the Badger shell around this obstacle to get to a straight course for the remaining mile. As the shell veered, it collided with the Penn JV boat and both crews locked oars for about 10 strokes. After getting cleared of this mess, Wisconsin was two lengths behind the Penn varsity. A half-mile from the finish, Carl Holtz “caught a crab” and lost his oar for 15 seconds but he recovered and raised the beat to 40 to send the Badger shell to a win as a crowd of 5,000 watched.

On June 1, UW traveled to Ithaca, NY, the home of Cornell. After the Friday work out, Walz sent the crew back to the boat house. On its own way back, the coaching launch ran out of gas. Stranded on the lake, Walz, the manager and Rom had to paddle the launch back to the inlet. There was only one paddle in the boat, so coach Walz used his big megaphone as an oar. When all was said and done, Wisconsin had gone undefeated on the east coast.

On June 22, 1946 at the Northwest Maritime Regatta, Wisconsin suffered its only loss of the year, being handicapped by flight delays, a poor quality borrowed shell and a poor lane assignment. Carlyle Fay remembered that power boats lined up on the outside border of the course with the crew race between the power boats and the shore. When the race was ended, all the power boats revved up and went home, causing large wakes in all directions. Wisconsin, trying to find a clam way home, headed toward shore but was swamped by all the wash.

Men's rowing, 1946 varsity team

Men’s rowing, 1946 varsity team

1946 team hall of fame

1946 team, Hall of Fame

1946 crew reunion

1946 team, reunion

As the shell began to sink deeper in the water, Dick Tipple said to his mates, “I can’t swim.” Carl Holz, deciding maybe he should get out of the boat and stabilize it from the water, jumped out and found the water only knee deep. The crew exited the boat, and carried it through the streets and neighborhoods of Seattle until they came to calmer water nearer the boathouse. They then put the shell back in the water and rowed home.

Senior Chester Knight was awarded the George Gross Trophy “given to a junior or senior who has been an inspiration to the crew.” Carl Holtz was selected to the All-American college eight in 1946. The Wisconsin Alumni Association also awarded Holtz the Walter Alexander Award, given to the junior athlete who “measures up most conspicuously” in character, sportsmanship and financial need.

On October 15, 1946, Walz resigned to become the head crew coach at Yale. His record while UW’s crew coach indicated only nine losses in 34 races since 1940. Assistant Coach Roy C. Rom filled in until February of 1947 when Norm Sonju was named head crew coach. Rom then joined Walz at Yale.

On January 18, 1977, UW’s 1946 crew, and Coach Allen W. Walz, were inducted into the Citizens Athletic Foundation’s Hall of Fame.

The Archives has scanned a variety of documents from 1946 [pdf], including newsletters and press releases.

Crew Art. 1906 Badger Yearbook, pg 378

Crew Art. 1906 Badger Yearbook, pg 378