Laker Navy to christen boats at homecoming

courtesy/ Grand Valley ROWING

courtesy/ Grand Valley ROWING

Kate Nuyen

Rowing and tradition at Grand Valley State University go hand in hand.

This year marks 50 years since the first pioneer rowers. The program started thanks to Professor Charles Irwin, who offered rowing as a course at Grand Valley State College.

The students have come a long way since that first group put their boats in the water, but they still pay tribute to the rowers before them.

“Rowing was the first varsity sport at Grand Valley and now has been brought down to a club position,” said captain Lexie Benton. “You still know that is where Grand Valley started: the very first varsity sport. We know we still carry on the tradition of a top-notch program.”

GVSU’s rowing program, now a nationally prominent club organization, started with a humble beginning. It originally looked for donations in a quirky way.

According to a document from June 27, 1963: “Grand Valley State College is looking for a large floating body. It’s not that they’ve lost an incoming freshman or a faculty member in the Grand River that borders the GVSC campus. They need floating storage space for the two racing shells that students will be using this fall in the college’s rowing program.”

While the rowing program still looks back on the old, it also celebrates the new.

The rowing program is christening eight new boats on Saturday for homecoming festivities. The new boats being held will be the Charley Butt, Marco Benedetti, The Bouwmans, Andrew (Taco) Zwierzynski, the Katie Phelan and the Sarah Zelenka. These people all had a significant impact on the program.

“The bigger boats (eight-person and four-person racing shells) are named after significant contributors to the program,” said Hugh McKeegan, a coach. “The smaller boats (one-person and two-person shells) are named to dedicate past club presidents and athletes whose accomplishments have brought distinction to the program and our university.”

The boat christening event is highlighted by a row-by, but for the most part is down to a science, much like the actual act of rowing.

“Then there will be, not champagne, but sparkling grape juice poured over the bow where it has the name,” Benton said. “The rowers doing the row-by will be picked by a priority system of top varsity members.”

Being a rower at GVSU is something these students wear as a badge of honor, whether they currently take part in the tradition or did so 50 years ago.

“Being a Grand Valley rower comes with the pride of six national championships, continuous success year after year, and a type of student-athlete that excels and perseveres in all facets of their life,” said senior Spencer West.

The boat christening on Saturday will take place from 11 a.m. to noon prior to the alumni luncheon.