Henley Regatta has only just started, but already the dramas are unfolding. One is the debut appearance of Montclair, a state school from New Jersey which has been making waves in the US rowing world by beating the daylights out of a succession of privileged (and quite possibly smug) private-school crews in super-expensive boats. Nothing like this has happened before, and it’s been headline news on US prime time TV.
At Henley, they beat Kings College by a comfortable 2.5 lengths in a time of 6.35, but sadly were knocked out on the second day in a time of 6.39. (Ironically, 6.39 was the time Eton College took to win comfortably against Shrewsbury on the same day.) No doubt Montclair will be back.
LOSBC sets the pace
Montclair were of course following in the pioneer footsteps of The London Oratory, who made their own Henley debut in 2015, showing the world how a state school with modest resources can do something once thought impossible – i.e. put a serious rowing program together, and then take it to the highest competitive level.
Nick Wilde is the LOSBC head coach, and I phoned him to discuss the Montclair phenomenon, and to see how things were going on the Existential Threat front (see my earlier post on this subject). He said that he was hopeful that a solution would soon be found. The school governors had told the parents’ support group that if they could raise the money to plug the club’s deficit, then the program could be kept going. Somehow, the group raised over £100,000 in less than 2 weeks, paid it into the club’s account, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Some of the anti-rowing faction at the school then appeared to be mobilising for a rearguard action, though, and there was some talk of going ahead with the closure plan regardless of the additional funding. Nick took the view that this would be so outrageously destructive and wrong that it was unlikely to happen. (Especially as there are lawyers among the club’s benefactors who would not take kindly to their donations being misallocated, if not misappropriated!) The governors, he thought, would surely recognise that the benefits to the school of a successful rowing program far outweighed any short-term financial gain which might (or might not) come from winding it up.
An extraordinary potential
Nick, who is a brilliant exponent of the power of positive thinking, is bullish about LOSBC’s prospects. Coaching at LOS is, he says, “The hardest job I have ever done”… but he detects an extraordinary potential in the current J14 group coming through… “They have the potential to be the fastest crew in the country… and I know what I am talking about.” He certainly does, having been the coach who took the Westminster School crew to an unprecedented (and unrepeated) series of successes, developing and coaching a group from beginners to J16 wins at National Schools Head and Regatta, and then handing over to Bill Mason (Bill had been Nick’s own coach at Imperial College) who took this crew on for their last two years at school to win National Schools Head and the National Schools Regatta again, at Championship 8’s level, as well as reaching the Henley finals.
If he’s right about their potential, then LOS could be heading for an astonishing achievement. A state school winning Henley and/or National Schools and/or Schools Head would be the school-rowing equivalent of Leicester City winning the Premier League. Place your bets now while the odds are stratospheric!
Such a scenario is far from impossible. Most of the necessary elements are in place. A strong and highly motivated squad; a dedicated and experienced coach who knows how to get results; a supportive host club in the shape of the Thames Tradesmen; and a dedicated parental support group with fundraising skills. These are irreplaceable and priceless assets – the products of 15 years’ work, effort and expenditure by many people.
The only element still missing is the unequivocal support of the school governors. And that is what many of us are now waiting for with our fingers crossed.
And while waiting we (and they) would do well to watch this video made by the LOSBC Senior Squad cox Cormac Auty at Henley in 2016. It gives a good idea of what it’s like to be in a winning crew – and to be thrown into the water at the end.