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Drexel Rowing: The passion and community behind a historic program | The Triangle
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Drexel Rowing: The passion and community behind a historic program

Photo by James Biernat

The Schuylkill River has long been a mecca of sorts for collegiate rowing, with the iconic Boathouse Row standing strong on its banks by which thousands of rowers race every year. When I arrived at the Bachelors Barge Club, Drexel’s house on the row, I was immediately taken aback by the passion and history surrounding the house, and the environment full of excitement for rowing. 

The sport of rowing has had a dynamic history, as it was one of the first major spectator sports to gain prominence in the U.S. 

“It’s interesting to see how rowing connects to the sports world today,” Boathouse captain Henry Hauptfuhrer said. “Back in the 19th century, before baseball and football, it was all rowing.” 

Following the Great Depression, however, the sport of rowing lost its momentum, as the financial burden of hosting extravagant and highly attended regattas became too much for many boating clubs to handle. 

Drexel’s boathouse, built in 1893, is filled to the brim with history, but has come a long way from its origins as the first boathouse on the Schuylkill. The Bachelors Barge Club now is a social hub for members, and features a training room with many Erg machines for rowers to practice on. 

When I toured the house, Director of Boathouse Operations, Ray Del Bianco, ensured I got the full Drexel Rowing experience. After touring the house, Ray taught me the proper form on Drexel’s Erg machines before presenting the different styles of boats and equipment the team uses. New technology including a speaker system the coxswain uses to guide the boat’s progress with the coach’s advice has allowed the program to continue reaching new heights. 

Last year, Drexel finished the season as the #14 boat in the nation, a big milestone for the team, and one they hope to continue progressing on. 

“Our goal now is to take it to the next step,” Head Coach Matt Weaver comments. “With the passion we have here, anything’s possible.” After a strong showing at the Las Vegas Invitational earlier this spring, becoming a top ten program in the nation is not out of reach.

The Drexel Men’s Rowing team features athletes from all over the U.S, as well as multiple international athletes, including rowers from Serbia, Germany, England, Romania, the Czech Republic and Egypt. In the boat, having connection is key to success, and building community among all the rowers is something that Rowing Director Paul Savell and Head Coach Matt Weaver put emphasis on. 

“We work in the fall on moving together, working really hard, and on top of that doing things together as a team,” Weaver notes, “It allows us to train harder and connect as a boat.”

As my day at the boathouse continued, I was able to sit in on a rowing practice, and witness the team in their element. Right as practice began, the house music was already playing, a tradition the team uses to get the energy ready for a tough day on the water. From there I was brought up to the pre-practice meeting where the boat assignments and plans for the day were presented. Additionally, I was able to participate in another team tradition, being the bird of the day, where one of the team members reads a description of a bird before attempting to mimic their call. 

The history and tradition that exists at the Bachelor Barge Club and with the Drexel rowing program should be enough to draw any rower to the program. Furthermore, the team’s community and passion for the sport and for each other has allowed them to thrive as a team in the past years, and should allow them continued growth. 

This Saturday, the team faces off against fellow Philadelphia schools Villanova and La Salle on the Schuylkill, as they start another season of competition — a season where the goals are as high as the spirit at Boathouse Row.