At Lafayette College, the first effort at organized athletics goes back to 1880, when the Athletic Association was founded to promote ‘Baseball, the Navy and the Field Sports.’ Although the Navy is no longer on the Delaware, the College has since evolved a sane and well-balanced athletic program. With this declaration of purpose, Lafayette has gone on to distinguish itself in baseball and the field sports. What happened to the Navy is one of the best-kept secrets on campus.
Judging from the 1882 Melange, Lafayette College’s Navy (using the Lehigh rather than the Delaware) possessed three boats and a “director.” The problem occurred when someone suggested that men be found to row these boats. That suggestion “met with the contempt it deserved.” Later Melanges used the same capsulized summary–usually ending with the proposal that a “race with a coal-laden canal boat” be arranged in May. By 1885, the editor had apparently graduated–and so had our oarsmen. There was a time at the College where little thought about what happened to crew in Easton. Indeed, when Francis (Mike) Hope (’71) got the idea of starting a team and posed it to some friends, one would have thought that the sport was a cross between the ruggedness of alligator wresting and the pointlessness of marble shooting. Harvard and Penn would soon find that they were made of as solid stuff as they.
The fall of 1970 marked the first time that the current organization began rowing on the Lehigh River. Mike bought the first Pocock 8+ in Philadelphia (a high school reject on sale for $100). The crew was officially established as a viable club, yet one problem still remained. Where was the boat to be kept? It was stored at Sigma Nu and then in a garage at a Chevrolet Dealership. A Volvo dealer along the Lehigh River answered this question for the team when he offered them the use of a portion of his showroom–his ceiling. The boat had to be hoisted ten feet above his cars. With the engineers in the club working tirelessly, the task was completed in preparation for a December launching. The first launch was comprised of Mike and Sigma Nu brothers and friends.
Preparation for the day’s launching was extensive. Two newspapers, a photographer, and a radio station were alerted to our plans. At about this point, some of the guys started to clarify the extent of their experience. From the start, Mike had professed to be the brains of the outfit. Soon it was apparent that six of the eight knew about as much as he did. [Nothing.] The impossibility of the situation was astonishing. But it had taken chutzpah to get as far as they had, and they weren’t quitting yet.
Without a dock, things looked tense. The decision was to board from a rock about 150 yards upstream from the dam–one at a time. Having watched five get in (one was 6-3), Mike figured his 66 inches would slide right in. He was wrong. His right foot slipped ever so slightly onto the tender belly of the boat. At first he thought that the break had been slight. But, gradually the bow of the boat started to vanish. Aside from an “OK, everybody out,” there was hardly a word said. Maybe “silent contempt” is some sort of tradition with Lafayette crews.
The primary objective behind starting to row this season is to acquaint each of the club’s 30 members with the demanding character of crew. To help them learn the fine points would be Mr. Fred Guaraldo, a former LaSalle oarsman. Matching the team’s determination, he has stressed that the “basics” are all they could learn this spring. The future indeed looked bright for the club. With the completion in two years of a new chain dam along the Lehigh, an excellent rowing channel would be provided. The Easton Parks Commission even expressed a willingness to set aside land for a future boathouse. Thus, the Lafayette Navy has been taken out of mothballs–after 86 dry years.
In the spring of 1971 the crew club was started with Murray Rosen as president. An 8+ was purchased and kept at the Ingersoll Rand Plant. The dock was about a half mile away from this location. In the fall of 1971 a second 8+ was purchased from the Philadelphia Athletic Club due to a donation by Fred Kirby. The boat was damaged in its transit to Lafayette, but it was repaired. There was no coach at this time, so the crew relied on those who had rowing experience, such as Dennis Byrne (’72), to teach the others the sport. In the spring of 1972, the dock was moved upriver and across from the warehouse, but it was washed away from flooding due to Hurricane Agnes. The team entered two races, one being against Drexel. Steve Colgrove acted as the president, secretary, treasurer, and coach from 1972 to 1973. In 1973 Steve Colgrove arranged for two eights and one four to be purchased.
In 1975, the team was kicked out of the warehouse where the boats were being kept because it was getting torn down. The boats were then stored at another warehouse in the area. In the spring of 1976 the dock was either washed away or stolen. After being replaced, it was stolen again in the summer of 1976. In the fall of 1976 the club purchased a used 8+ for $1000. The spring of 1977 marked the first competitive season for the Lafayette College Crew Club. Dennis Loria, a junior, coached and rowed. The fall of 1977 brought two freshmen, Steven Brownlee and Peter Jacoby, with high school championship regatta experience. Brownlee took over the coaching. The following year another experienced freshman rower, Bruce Braun, arrived having just competed at Henley. Having Brownlee and Braun together with returning rowers, the club began to grow substantially. With an increasing number of female rowers, a women’s eight took to the water.
In 1979, the club coerced Jim Cotter, an ex- Columbia rower and Pfizer engineer, into coaching on a volunteer basis. However, late in 1979, the boats were kicked out of their second warehouse home as it, too, was being torn down. In 1980, an eight was put in the pool at the field house for practice, using large springs to hold the shell and oars with huge holes drilled in them to practice. Much of the spring season was spent in the pool, but the team still rowed at races in Brigantine, NJ (winning its first race with only 30 minutes of on-the-water practice!), on the Harlem River, and at the US Merchant Marine Academy.
The next home for the boats was a Pep Boys garage by the bowling lanes. Once again launching just upstream from the dam, this was remained the team’s boathouse throughout the 1980’s. In October of 1980, Lafayette entered a men’s eight in its first ever head race, the Head of the Schuylkill. 1981 brought about the acquisition of 2 pairs, which were transported on top of cars. The first Lafayette Rowing Invitational took place against LaSalle on October 17, 1981. Ann Holder was hired as the coach of the women’s team and two new fours with two sets of oars were purchased.