UCI Crew: 18 Months Later

Anna Nguyen / New University

During the summer of 2009, Athletic Director Mike Izzi sadly announced UC Irvine would lose five athletic programs (men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s rowing and sailing), which would no longer compete starting in the 2010 school year.

“These were extremely difficult decisions that unfortunately had to be made,” Izzi said when the fateful news was announced to the affected programs. “The impact this has on these coaches and student-athletes is something none of us wishes to see.”
The decision was made in lieu of the crumbling state budget felt throughout all UC campuses. The men’s and women’s rowing teams, in particular, have been hurt due to financial losses.

Rowing is the oldest collegiate sport in the United States, dating back to 1852 when Yale and Harvard competed in a heat that went just over two miles. Current men’s Head Coach Duvall Hecht founded UCI’s crew program in 1965, and the program is one of the school’s founding intercollegiate sports. Coach Hecht was a gold medalist at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and has kindly returned to help restore the prestige to a once distinguishable athletic program at UCI.

“Our [former] coach (Scott Charette) had to leave, we lost our weight training coach and we couldn’t flag down recruits anymore,” fifth-year senior captain Ben Hise said. “We also lost out on some gear the athletic department provided for us.”
The athletic department may have been scared away from continuing to pay for rowing shells alone, costing up to $15,000 or more, not including oars. Rowers took it upon themselves to help raise money by staging an ergothon, a non-stop rowing relay marathon to “Save UCI Rowing.” Shirts, news interviews, Facebook and Twitter campaigns were made to publicize the message that one of the school’s oldest sports was no longer to be recognized by the NCAA.

“The alumni tried really hard to make it happen,” Hise said. “It’s just really tough to bring back a sport [because of the budget] without absolute knowledge it will be able to support itself. Rowing is an expensive sport, really expensive.”
Cracked oars, shells and broken rudders are not cheap to fix either.

“We needed to fix one of our rudders, but we didn’t have the right size for the boat,” third-year Brian Thies said. “We cut it in half and managed to fix it with what he had. It’s stuff like that you don’t want to do.”

The teams are now both run through campus recreation and are considered club sports. Rowers are seeing the monetary costs with their own eyes as they pay for trainers, uniforms and transportation, all of which were paid for by the athletic department before Aug. 1, 2009. Campus recreation helps maintain the UCI Boathouse on Shellmaker Island, about 15 minutes away from campus.

“It’s definitely become more stressful,” said Hise, who is responsible for attending meetings for campus recreation, making sure hotels are taken care of and keeping the team operating as if it were still a Division I sport.
“I just try to keep the integrity the same as it was before with [UCI] Athletics,” Hise said.

Although both the men’s and women’s crew teams have lost out on the perks of being a Division I athlete at UCI, they have rallied around each other and have garnered support from students and fellow athletes alike since becoming a club sport. The men’s team won the Newport Sprints Fall Classic and finished second in the Head of the Harbor Race at the Port of L.A. The women finished seventh in the “Open Four” heat at the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival (NARF).  Both competitions took place in November of 2010.

The men’s crew has greatly benefitted from having Head Coach Hecht at the helm since last year, and is looking for a major improvement in the upcoming spring season.  Coach Hecht is well respected in the rowing community and previously coached at UCLA and Irvine in the 90s. Not only does Hecht oversee the men’s varsity and novice eight-man squads, he helps pay for equipment and does not take a paycheck for his contributing effort to maintain the UCI team.

“He’s done everything you can imagine,” Hise said about the beloved coach. “He went to Shellmaker Island and set up the program from there.”

Considering the cost of the warm-ups, regatta entry fees and uni-suits, UCI’s crews aren’t forced to pay as much as teams such as Long Beach State, UCLA and Orange Coast College.

The men’s and women’s crew teams are out to prove that they still deserve to be a part of the intercollegiate programs at UCI, and with new Governor Brown expecting to cut more from the UC system, other programs must appreciate the amenities they receive on a daily basis.

UCI will begin their season March 5 at Long Beach.