When Sports Were Threatened, 1943 UW Crew Provided Hope

As World War II raged in Europe and the South Pacific, these Huskies pushed on to maintain public morale.

The last time the University of Washington debated whether or not to hold sporting events, because of a world crisis, it happened in 1943. 

The Husky football team played three home games and five altogether that season, counting the '44 Rose Bowl against USC -- still the only time two members of the same conference faced each other in the history of the postseason classic.

The UW basketball team actually got a full season in, finishing 24-7 and qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Then there was Husky rowing.

With war raging furiously and people dying in great numbers in Europe and in the South Pacific, just 72 candidates turned out for UW crew that February, only half of the usual manpower devoted to the school's prestigious and unrequited competitive sport.

One of them was my father, Bill Raley, a lanky, 6-foot-4 freshman from Buckley, Washington. He turned up in the bow position, or No. 8 seat, in the varsity boat. 

Nearly everyone who rowed the season before had been called away to enter the military. Only a precious few upperclassmen remained, such as Stan Pocock, who hailed from Seattle's most respected rowing family. 

The 1943 Washington varsity eight. Bill Raley and Stan Pocock are the two tallest rowers in the middle, in that order.

The 1943 Washington varsity eight. Bill Raley and Stan Pocock are the two tallest rowers in the middle, in that order.

The Pococks built shells besides racing in them, creating a widespread customer base and working out of a boathouse on Lake Union.

Stan Pocock was entrusted with keeping everything together for a Husky program just seven seasons removed from the Boys in the Boat heroics, where the locally produced UW varsity crew won the gold medal in front of Hitler in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. 

A book about these legendary rowers became a best seller and a major motion picture is in the works to portray their story.

By comparison, the 1943 crew proved unforgettable and beatable. Yet it rowed more for public morale than serious competition. 

While the national championship regatta in Poughkeepsie, New York, was cancelled, these Huskies soldiered on. They entered just a handful of races, mostly against Canadian crews, with only one sprint held against a traditional opponent in the University of California.

For four months, my father received the thrill of a lifetime, rowing on a makeshift varsity eight for famed coach Al Ulbrickson Sr. He did his part to provide normalcy at a time when the world felt out of control.

Bill Raley came away with a handful of news clippings, a yellow "W" letter made with an oar attached to it that I've misplaced and a keepsake Husky crew pin I won't let out of my sight (see the video).

Husky crew engaged in an abbreviated schedule before shutting down in 1944 and 1945.

The Huskies rowed an abbreviated schedule in 1943.

Husky crew was canceled for the 1944 and 1945 seasons while World War II escalated. There were simply not enough rowers available as military call-ups accelerated. Ulbrickson, without a rowing program to lead, became the UW athletic director. 

And my father? 

Bill Raley went on and graduated from the UW, attended Stanford and received a law degree, and he became commissioner of the Olympic National Park. Sadly in 1963, he was just 38 when he died in an auto accident in Port Angeles, Washington. His passing was front-page news across the state. 

He never got a chance to share with me how he had became part of something so unusual but rewarding during perilous times.