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Putting on the old Indian sign

June 27, 1966
June 27, 1966

Table of Contents
June 27, 1966

Roulette
Olympic Drama
The War
The Mets
Bluefish
Baseball
Track & Field
Rowing
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Putting on the old Indian sign

Thanks, they claim, to a Mohawk haircut on Oar No. 10, Wisconsin's Badgers beat everybody at the IRA

A lean, lanky 20-year-old named Bill Clapp, who rows bow oar on the University of Wisconsin crew, had a dream one night not long ago after Navy beat the Badgers by a boat length on Lake Mendota. Bill's dream was full of sweet revenge and wishfulness, and in it he saw himself and his shipmates on the Wisconsin varsity pull away from the Midshipmen and 13 other top U.S. crews to win the first prize at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships on New York's Onondaga Lake. The trouble was that when Bill Clapp woke up next morning he had to face the fact that it was nothing but a dream. The Badgers didn't have a look-in at the IRA. They had not only lost to Navy at Madison, they had failed even to qualify for the finals in the Eastern Sprints at Worcester, Mass. How, then, were they to win the biggest race of all? Bill Clapp had his own idea about that.

This is an article from the June 27, 1966 issue Original Layout

"When I was a freshman," he explained at Syracuse last week, "I did this Mohawk Indian bit, and guess what? We went out and beat all the other freshmen in the IRA." Figuring that what made powerful medicine once might well do it again, Bill persuaded his crewmate, No. 4 Oar Tom Mitchell, to shave his (Bill's) head in Mohawk style one hour before the race started. Result: contrary to the predictions of every expert in the business, the Badgers won the IRA, beating defending champion Navy by half a length and the highly touted University of Washington Huskies by 11.

Nobody suspected this upset was in the making until the race was one-third over. The Badgers got off to a good start, unloaded a "big 10" set of power strokes to get their shell locked in and moving out, then settled down to a steady 31-stroke beat. But California, Rutgers and what amounted to a scrub crew from Dartmouth (its members had to pay their own way to Syracuse) were setting a furious pace up ahead. Soon Rutgers pulled into the lead, and Brown, another semiscrub outfit that had made some threats as a possible dark-horse victor, drew past the other two. Wisconsin was then in fifth place.

"We followed Cornell for the first mile," said Coxswain Bill Witte, going over the race afterward, "then we picked up Navy. They looked like the crew we had to beat. Brown was up there too, but we stuck with Navy." About 50 strokes from the finish, with all but Navy and Wisconsin out of it, the Badgers upped their stroke just enough to beat the Middies across the line. Princeton was third, Brown fourth and Joe Burk's Pennsylvanians, paced once again by their little black box (SI, June 6), fifth.

Oddly enough, none of the hardheaded coaches concerned seemed inclined to give Bill Clapp's haircut much credit for the way the race turned out. "Wisconsin got into the groove quicker than we did at the start, and that made the difference in the stretch." was the way Navy Coach Paul Quinn explained it. "They just didn't hang together," said Coach Fil Leanderson of his disgraced Washington Huskies. And the Badgers" own coach, 64-year-old Norm Sonju, seemed to think the victory was the result of planning rather than dreaming. "We have had a bad season," he said. "After Navy beat us we did a lot of switching seats. Today the boys suddenly matured as a unit, so I guess we must have found the right combination."

Another thing Sonju did was use the right oars: the shovels favored by Germany's champion Ratzeburgers, which are fine in calm weather on a smooth lake but bad in a chop. Fearing Onondaga would show its usual bad temper, the other coaches used the old-fashioned narrow oars. Sonju took a chance with the new type, and the lake paid him off with a surface as smooth as a pond.

If Sonju's victory in the varsity and an easy win by Dartmouth in the jayvees served to shatter the odds at Syracuse, the wise money got its revenge in the freshman event in which Pennsylvania's aggressive yearlings, who call themselves the Animals, behaved exactly as expected. Their only threat came from a surprisingly strong Princeton crew.

All week long the undefeated Animals and their bumptious coach, Ted Nash, had been the talk of the regatta. Nash is at least as full of surprises (though far from as well loved in rowing circles) as his varsity counterpart, Joe Burk. One difference between them is that, thanks to Penn's new recruiting policy, Nash has real rowers to work. Like Burk, he keeps them in prime condition. Whenever the Penn frosh went to get their oars or return them to the boathouse at Syracuse, they ran in double time, like Marine boots at Parris Island. After practice, they did brisk squat jumps to a drillmaster's cadence called by the cox. Whenever they pulled away from a dock, they held their oars in one hand.

"What's Nash trying to prove with all these antics and contortions?" one disgusted (and later defeated) freshman rower from the West Coast asked as he watched the Animals take off. Nash had an answer. "I make them row and row and row. The fact is that near the middle of the race this afternoon the cox will call out, 'Two thousand!' And the crew will answer, 'Two thousand!' You know why? Because sometime after the halfway mark they will have rowed 2,000 miles in practice and competition."

Before the 2,000 miles were completed, Nash had come up with another antic that had rowers and rival coaches crying foul. Instead of having his boys launch their shell at the Penn boathouse and then paddle it to the starting line three miles away, as crews have always done at Onondaga Lake (and do at every other regatta whether the line be near or far), Nash trucked crew and boat alike to the Onondaga Yacht Club marina and put them overboard only a stone's throw from the start. It saved a lot of unnecessary pulling, but it detonated a howl of protest that echoed across the lake. Pressed to do something about it, Regatta Director Asa Bushnell could only admit that "there was no set rule to the contrary because we never anticipated such a move, but there may well be a rule about it in the future."

Rule or no rule, however, it seems more than probable that the Animals would have won easily even without their extra ration of rest. "We went off to a 43-stroke start, following Princeton most of the way," said Coxswain Kenny Dreyfuss. "At about the halfway mark Dex Bell, our stroke, picked it up, and we went into a semisprint. With about 40 strokes to go, Bell put it up another couple of notches, and we won."

It was as easy as that, and no one, not even upstart Princeton, could do much about it. The freshman win, coupled with the Penn varsity's fifth place and a second-place finish for the jayvees, earned Penn the Jim Ten Eyck trophy as the overall point winner (15) for the entire regatta. Beyond that, it suggested a future in which Harry Parker's Harvards (who beat their ancient rivals from Yale by six lengths on the Thames River that same afternoon) had better guard carefully their status as the best of America's college crews.

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