Clad in rain slickers and athletic shorts, PA alumni braved the torrential rains and frigid winds for another shot at reliving old glory on the Merrimack. Dozens of Phillips graduates, ranging from the class of 2004 all the way back to the class of 1956, stepped back into a shell to feel the pull of an oar once again. The spring of 2006 marks Andover Crew’s 50th anniversary. The colorful history, graced by individuals who have gone on to win national collegiate titles, win the storied Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and even make their mark on the United States National Team, was celebrated and revived this past Saturday. Beginning with a morning row at the Boathouse, the alumni got back together to form some of their old boat line-ups and see former classmates and teammates. While some remain active in rowing, most have not strapped into foot-stretchers since their college days. Despite the inconsistent water, nonstop rain, and unpleasant temperature, everybody was smiling. The crews surprisingly did more than just tool around in the shells. After some work on starts and general rhythm, the dusty competitive edge came out. One alumnus remarked, “I thought I would have forgotten how to do this, but I guess once an oarsman, always an oarsman.” After some racing pieces, the morning came to a close, concluding with a barbecue outside the boat bays. The day continued with an afternoon of current students racing. Not all alumni were brave enough to stick out the sopping wet few hours, but a large majority stayed around to see Andover crew today. Hosting Exeter and Tabor, the alumni were happy to watch PA compete against its infamous rivals. Although Exeter is traditionally Andover’s primary rival, in Boys Crew, no one is more despised than Tabor. Tabor, although having struggled for the past few years, has one of America’s most storied schoolboy rowing programs – winning the Royal Henley Regatta a number of times, including the competition in 1965 when a Tabor crew edged out a Phillips crew, who had beaten them three times before, in the event’s finals. Fortunately for the modern crews and the unreservedly anxious alumni, both the Girls and Boys First Boats won their races. The event was concluded by an evening supper. After getting dry, the alumni and current varsity crews gathered in commons to celebrate the program’s birthday and to honor its founding coach, William H. Brown. In the fall of 1955, Bill Brown, against the wishes of the board of trustees, borrowed some old boats from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. This was Andover Crew’s birth. Within a year, Coach Brown had organized a racing squad, captained by President of the Board of Trustees Oscar Tang ’57 for its inaugural competitive season. Coach Brown quickly moved the program from its infancy to a competitive and successful level winning his first Interscholastic Championship in 1959, only four years after the program’s founding. Coach Brown was honored by his faithful rowing alumni in a number of speeches. Foster Conklin ’79, the First Boat’s stroke his senior year, stood at the lectern, nearly reduced to tears as he thanked Coach Brown for everything he had done. Mr. Conklin closed his speech by saying, “Coach Brown, this is for you.” He proceeded to bow his head in respect and then give his favorite Andover figure an honorary rowing shirt. Although the spotlight was clearly on Coach Brown, a variety of alumni from the Peter Washburn era also attended. Travis Metz ’85, a former coxswain, noted his memories from the Merrimack as the favorite of his PA career. He spoke of the coaching philosophy and its emphasis on positive reinforcement. He recalled the sole incident of any negative comment from Coach Washburn’s launch. After steering into another boat off a practice start, Coach Washburn, through his megaphone, said, “Travis, you can do better than that.” Mr. Metz then explained how even today he can still hear Coach Washburn’s voice when he makes mistakes, reminding him what he is capable of. The evening closed with the final words of the event’s organizer, Sam Darby. He and his wife Rosy, parents of boys First Boat coxswain Michelle Darby ’07, have invested much of their free time into Andover crew. Although neither are alumni, a fascination ignited by their daughter’s obsession have led the parents to the development of a regularly updated website, andovercrew.com, and the function as facilitator for hundreds of alumni connections. Mr. Darby gave a huge thanks to the program, new members and old, and ended with a presentation of an award to Coach Brown. A medal inset in a glass trophy bore the engraving, “Creator of the Passion.” Overall, the day was highlighted by the reconnection of old teammates and the return to a favorite childhood memory. The incredibly successful event served as a testament to the strength and depths of the bonds formed on the cold water through the hours of grueling workouts. Current Co-Captain Justin Yi ‘06 commented, “I hope some day that I can get back together with my boatmates and enjoy myself as much as these guys clearly have. As much as I understand where these bonds come from and how they are made, I am still impressed by how well they have withstood the test of time.”
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