The Origins of Brookline High School Rowing

By Dick Garver, Riverside Boat Club

Friends of Brookline Rowing thanks author Dick Garver for permission to reprint his article from the Riverside Boat Club Newsletter, Spring 2006.

With the close of the spring rowing season, Brookline High School crews disappear from the boathouse until the coming year. The program has recently had notable success. BHS rowing is not as dominant as its exclusively boys’ program was in the first two decades of the 20th Century, however. A look back at its early success sheds an interesting light on high school rowing in the Boston area in its formative years.

Newspaper articles indicate that Brookline High School was rowing as early as 1900. At that time public and private schools—some of them long forgotten—raced against each other in first and second boat fours. They often shared club boathouses and coaches. In the 1906 season, for instance, Brookline and Browne and Nichols rowed out of Union under the direction of a professional on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:30, while Roxbury Latin boated on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:30; Noble and Greenough on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 2:30; and Stone’s on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 3:30. The Boston Athletic Association boathouse hosted Boston Latin, Ballou and Hoblgand, Cambridge Latin, English High, and Volkmann. Other school rowing programs included the Free School, Merchant Arts High, and Waltham High. Dorchester High entered the competition in 1908. Races were a mile in length. Newspapers prominently displayed pictures of the leading schools’ captains and reported their boatings as they evolved over the course of the season. There was even a Globe story on the Brookline captain’s academic ineligibility for the 1907 season.

Boston’s Interscholastic Rowing Association held an annual schoolboy championship at least as far back as 1900, when the Boston Athletic Association, which currently organizes the Marathon but at that time supported a very active rowing program, donated a $250 winner’s trophy. The championships consisted of heats and finals held over two weeks at the end of May or in early June. In the first years of the decade the course ran from a start near Charlesgate along the seawall that then formed the west side of the basin to a finish in front of Union, or downstream of the Harvard (Massachusetts Avenue) Bridge on the Boston side of the basin to the Cottage Farm (BU) Bridge, depending on conditions. By the 19teens it was rowed either upstream or downstream between the Cottage Farm and Harvard Bridges.

The Brookline High School Athletic Association applied for membership in the Interscholastic Rowing Association in 1904. By 1906 it had won the championship. Brookline tied Cambridge Latin in the first boat finals that year and then won a row-off a week later in a new course record of 5m 28s in front of “one of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds ever to witness a schoolboy race”. It repeated as champion in 1910, when two Cambridge Latin rowers caught crabs—a commonly reported occurrence in these races. The 1911 race attracted great attention. Fourteen schools were entered in the heats, including new entry Rindge Manual Training School. Newspapers touted Noble and Greenough, Cambridge Latin and Brookline as the crews to beat. The latter two shared the same coach, one John Grainey. Cambridge Latin led for half the race, but was overtaken by Brookline, which won by a quarter of a length, with Roxbury Latin and Boston Latin in the rear. Under the terms of BAA’s 1900 donation, Brookline’s third championship retired the trophy, which was recently rediscovered in a dusty corner of the high school.

1924 BHS Crew Team
1924 BHS Crew Team

Brookline High School Rowing has existed on and off throughout the twentieth century. BHS recently discovered a 1911 championship cup. Brookline Rowing has competed closely and often victoriously with the elite prep schools of New England. In the 1920s Brookline had a fierce rivalry with Tabor Academy. An Exeter alumnus who graduated in the 1960s has a race with Brookline, which they won by less than a second, forever engraved in his memory. BHS Rowing became inactive during the mid-1900s.

The latest era of Brookline Rowing began in 1986 when Nicole Endraos and Fabio Selvig led a group of students who convinced the athletic director Ed Schluntz that it was worthwhile to restart the crew program. This program continues today due to the effort expended by rowers and their families to keep the program afloat. In 1987 the team, consisting of 47 men and women, was administered by Riverside Boat Club’s Junior Committee. In the 1988 season Brookline Crew became a varsity sport. The team competed in the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association (NEIRA races) and the season went well, but it brought attention to the fact that Brookline High School was not at all involved with the team.In 1989 Brookline High School established and met three goals. The first was for Brookline Rowing to become an established member of the NEIRA. The second goal was to transfer the administration of the team to Brookline. The third goal was to continue to keep the crew affiliated with Riverside Boat Club.

Financing a crew team can be particularly difficult. The struggle to provide adequate equipment is not new. BHS yearbooks from the 1920s describe the unfortunate loss of a race caused by a boat sinking, and the ensuing efforts to replace it with a second hand boat from Cornell. A team has to rent or own a boathouse. At least four coaches are necessary to run a viable, competitive program at a novice and varsity level. Rowing shells and oars also have to be bought or rented. The average used shell costs $10,000 to $15,000, while top of the line boats run over $30,000. Brookline High School supports many teams and cannot afford to fully fund the crew team. As a condition of Brookline taking control of the team, the volunteer organization, Friends of Brookline Rowing had to be established. The ‘Friends’ consists of involved parents who annually raise enough money to pay more than half the cost of maintaining the rowing team. The parent organization conducts annual fund raising events such as the fall Erg-a-thon, running the concession stand at all BHS home football games, and a door-to-door Crew-a-thon in May. On the average $14,000 is raised each year.

In the 1990s Brookline Rowing flourished. The men’s first varsity boat and all three women’s boats won gold in their respective races at the 1996 Quinsigamond Cup. The 21st century has begun with Brookline Crew victories as well. The men and women’s first varsity boats both placed second while the second varsity women placed first in their event at the Northeast Regional Championships in Derby, CT. on the Housatonic River May 19, 2001. Crowning this winning weekend Brookline Rowing was the first winner of the Massachusetts Public Schools Championship on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester May 20, 2001. Both the men and women’s varsity boats placed first in every event!

After winning its first MPSRA title in 2001, Brookline Rowing went on to repeat that feat in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.