For high school athletes, committing to crew is like enlisting in a full-time job.
Saturday, April 9th was an unseasonably cold day. It was snowing almost the entire day and all Malvern athletics were cancelled, except one team – crew.
While for many Friars March Madness is a spectator sport, the crew team is involved in the authentic March madness of rowing when temperatures are barely above freezing. The Schuylkill River had not frozen over, so it was practice as usual.
“Practicing in the snow took rowing to a different level, but it was also kind of fun,” sophomore rower David Wiener said. “The harsh conditions disciplined us to focus more on rowing and our technique. I think it helped us because it allowed for us to have more experience in bad conditions.”
“Rowing is not for everybody, but the opportunities that rowing gives are a real draw for kids who want to work hard and be the best that they can be.”
-Coach Craig Hoffman
Malvern’s rowing program is historically one of the best in the country. According to the Malvern Prep website, the Varsity Quad has won the City Championships, Stotesbury, and the Scholastic Rowing National Championships five years in a row. The team has competed successfully in the Henley Royal Regatta in London, England and in the Silverskiff Regatta in Turin, Italy.
Such a high level program should lead headlines. But head coach Craig Hoffman said that since the rowing team does not compete at Malvern, they do not get the same type of attention that the football or basketball teams would get.
Rowing is an unusual sport – one with its own vocabulary and limited prime-time sports coverage, and according to rowers involved, it is a lot of hard work.
The team has a very rigorous schedule that lasts almost the whole year.
“It’s usually six days a week,” senior rower Brett Allan said. “We lift before school three days a week. In the fall we are at the river Monday through Saturday, we are at Malvern in the tanks during the Winter, and in the Spring we are on the river Monday through Saturday with a race usually on Sunday.”
“Crew is a difficult sport,” said Allan, who will be rowing next year at the University of Pennsylvania. “You really have to find the fun in it and once you do, it becomes a really enjoyable sport.”
Competing in high level tournaments makes crew a very intense and time consuming sport at Malvern, forcing some kids to back away from the sport.
Senior Matt Casaday, who used to row but no longer does, said, “I’m glad that I did rowing for the two years I did, but I am even more glad that I am not doing it anymore.”
Casaday said that rowing taught him values of hard work, integrity, and honesty. “As time went on, I knew I was not going to be able to continue with crew. Rowing is a mentally and physically demanding sport; if you’re not 100% committed to it, you’re going to be miserable. And even if you are 100% committed, you still might be miserable,” he said.
“Once I realized I couldn’t possibly continue in college, it seemed as though what I was putting into the team was becoming greater in comparison to what I was getting out of it. It’s a matter of return on investment, and common sense,” Casaday said.
Some students at Malvern fear that by doing crew, they will not be able to have a social life or get involved in other activities at Malvern.
“Once I realized I couldn’t possibly continue in college, it seemed as though what I was putting into the team was becoming greater in comparison to what I was getting out of it. It’s a matter of return on investment, and common sense.”
-Matt Casaday ’16
Senior Rob DiCicco also decided to quit the crew team during sophomore year. “It was simply too time consuming,” he said. “It interfered with the wide variety of extracurricular activities Malvern has to offer. Leaving the time allowed me to pursue a whole gambit of different passions as opposed to just one.”
Allan agreed that crew is a big commitment. “You probably practice close to 20 hours per week,” he said. “But I still find it pretty easy to have a social life.”
“I don’t think it keeps us from getting involved in the other clubs and activities that Malvern has to offer,” sophomore Patrick Keenan said. “Everyone still has time to pursue their other interests outside of crew.”
Allan also said that crew has not had a negative effect on his Malvern experience in terms of getting involved and meeting great friends. He said that it has allowed him to focus on his school work, and that the sport forces you to improve your time management skills.
Hoffman believes that the sport is a draw for students who have strong work ethic. “Rowing is not for everybody, but the opportunities that rowing gives [are] a real draw for kids who want to work hard and be the best that they can be,” he said.
Currently, there are seventeen students in Malvern’s rowing program. Hoffman hopes to expand the program. He said that the more students involved, the better the team gets.
Few, if any, students have experience in crew before high school. “Rowing allows you to start anew in a sport. You don’t need to have been rowing your whole life to play at Malvern,” Hoffman said.
Last year the crew team moved into a new boathouse in Conshohocken. It has been very beneficial to the program so far, according to Hoffman. Malvern’s team shares the boathouse with The Haverford School and the Conshohocken Township.
“The new boathouse has given us the opportunity to have more efficient practices, get on the river sooner, and have more practice time,” Hoffman said.
Sophomore rower Patrick Keenan agrees. “The boathouse gives us a place with great facilities and space to allow our team to be the most efficient we can be,” he said.
According to Malvern’s website, crew alumni have been recruited and accepted by some of the top universities in the country including Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California at Berkeley, and others.
“Our work ethic very much mimics what they do in college,” Hoffman said. “The volume in college is greater than what they do in high school, but they follow the same tenets of training consistently throughout the year.”
Julian Venonsky ’12 rowed lightweight at Malvern and is currently the coxswain, the position responsible for steering the boat, for the rowing team at UC Berkeley. “Our team [at Malvern] was always very successful, winning the Philadelphia City Championships, Stotesbury, and the SRAA’s fairly consistently,” he said.
“The practice schedule at Malvern was pretty intense,” Venonsky said, “but nothing could have prepared me better for a college program. Malvern’s program definitely got people ready for college in terms of time management – which is probably the hardest thing to do: to successfully balance school and rowing.”
Venonsky said that at Malvern they always strived to be the best. Even at the high school level they worked for perfection every day and all had one goal in mind: to win. He said that coming into a program like Cal without having that background Malvern provided would have been a shock to his system.
“I think my favorite part about rowing at Malvern was that it was competitive which made it fun,” Venonsky said. “I thrive on competition. It makes everyone involved better and I really do owe Malvern and Coach Hoffman all of the credit for where I’m at now. The program at Malvern is what got me to Cal and what made me strive to be the best.”
Hoffman said that this year’s crew team has been very competitive in all of their races. They are entering their most difficult part of the season when they compete for the Philadelphia City Championships in May. They will also compete in the Mid-Atlantic races later on.
Hoffman wants Malvern’s rowers to graduate not only with skills in rowing on the river, but also with skills for life during and even after college.
“The athletes that come out of Malvern are not only prepared for life in college but in life after college as well,” Hoffman said. “There is nothing that they can’t do. Whether you’re in a business setting, medical setting, or a graduate setting, you set goals.”
“Rowing teaches that if you work hard and you work consistently, there is nothing that you can’t achieve,” he said.