When Kathy and I joined the U of M Club of Ann Arbor several years ago, I’m sure we brought down the average age. With their flagship event being the weekly Coaches’ Luncheon, a nice wholesome Weber’s lunch followed by a talk by a football or basketball coach followed by one from a coach of one of the “Olympic” sports teams (the disparaging might employ the adjective “non-revenue”), to attend requires a couple hours of free time around Monday lunch. A friend of ours already in that crowd had been entertaining us for years with stuff he heard at the Coaches’ Luncheon. Press are not allowed and attendants are sworn to secrecy, so the coaches tend to speak freely. A great thing. So once my schedule freed up Mondays, I signed right up. Even while teaching, Kathy would sometimes be free to join me. It quickly became evident why this club has been a going concern since starting up in 1957. Jimmy and Juwan both kick off their respective seasons with rousing talks, and the rest of the time we’re entertained by their assistants, impressive to a man, even if some look like they’d just gotten out of high school. The others often talked about sports with which we weren’t always familiar, even firing us up enough to go see their team play. There are a lot of spontaneous rousing choruses of “The Victors”.
Today was one of those days. I wasn’t even going to go. The same time I might leave the house to get to Weber’s, she was boarding the limo to catch a plane to Houston for her week-long space medicine meeting in Galveston, joined by 4,000 other similarly interested. I had a two-sided to do list and was looking forward to some uninterrupted time.
But when Kathy said the basketball coach would be Juwan’s right-hand man, Philadelphia’s bald, acerbic, funny Phil Martelli, I knew I had to go. With 24 years as a head coach himself, at St. Joseph, Juwan hired him to show him the college coaching ropes, and he pays attention to what Phil says.
Once there, we heard as we finished eating that Phil was running late. Mark Rothstein, women’s rowing coach here for the past 32 years, was there with two female guests and willingly got things rolling.
A gentleman, he started by introducing his companions. First was Jessica, his daughter skipping her 8th grade class that day as her dad thought this lecture would be more educational. Her preferred sport was soccer, but dad had bought her a single just before COVID, and she’s shown some rowing talent there. His assistant coach, Lauren Schmetterling, definitely had some rowing talent.
An All-American at Colgate, she graduated to the National Team, winning gold at the ’16 Olympics (1). She’d come to Michigan as a grad assistant last year and became a full-fledged coach when a spot opened up.
Mark was kind to our cross-state rivals. Asked early to size up the Big 10 in rowing, he said that U of M and OSU have shared the top spot for the past several years. On the tier below us, he placed Wisconsin, Rutgers, Iowa, and MSU.
The U has built lavish facilities for its Olympic sports teams. Mark said we have “the best rowing training facility in the whole world”. The rowing team already had some nice digs with their very own boathouse on Belleville Lake, about 16 miles east of main campus, where they have their meets. Occupied since 2000, with 6,000 square feet, it was pretty cramped for workouts, as so much of that space was taken up by – well – boats!
But Stephen Ross’s $100 million check in 2017 went a long way to solving that problem (2). The U shook down $68 mill from other sources and now there’s 280,000 square feet of new space. I couldn’t exactly tell here they put the rowers, but Mark describes a palace. On one floor are 80 conventional rowing machines. Below that is their RP3, a state-of-the-art machine that modulates and records multiple aspects of rowing, including cameras from every angle. The rower even gets to feel what the paddles act like hitting water moving at different speeds.
The black “T” is the newer model and can be had for about 3200 bucks. The silver “S” runs a little less.
Then below that are the two rowing tanks, big enough to accept a real boat placed into water stirred by blades into any characteristics the coach desires.
Who signs up for this sport? Mark says he has around 100 on his roster, in two tiers. 40-50 are on the varsity roster while 30-40 are freshman or “novices”. Quite a bit of training is often in store for those freshman. Many have never rowed before. Mark recruits many “out-of-sport” girls, seeking athletes who are tall and have good endurance. Strength is nice, too, but endurance tops strength. Hence, a lot of his recruits have excelled at basketball, volleyball, track, and swimming. However, he says his best rower on the current team played soccer. He has 21 full scholarships to parse out (NCAA guidelines), and some of his players are swinging NIL (Name Image Likeness) deals. But he turns out champions, finishing first or second in 11 of the past 12 seasons, with 3 Big 10 championships. The last 2 Olympics have seen 2 U of M alums rowing.
Mark said about women’s rowing “it’s a beautiful sport”. Although I’ve never seen a rowing meet, I can imagine it is. All that rhythmic, coordinated movement by the lithe, long female bodies, all to propel that slender bullet in which they sit smoothly and swiftly through the water. He got into the weeds about meets, saying 7 boats go out, carrying either 4 or 7 rowers (he didn’t mention cockswains, except to say early on that in the NCAA women’s rowing they must be female). And I don’t know how long they’re rowing. Mark averred that rowing may be one of those sports more exciting on TV as in person you can only see the first and last 500 meters of the race. But I’m going to go watch sometime, as admission is free, and I imagine the meets don’t feature any obnoxious piped in music like the “revenue” sports do. It’s a Spring sport, and first meet is coming right up: March 4th (my friend Eric’s favorite calendar day). You can check out their doings here (3). But as with other UofM spring sports, rowing must work its way up the temperature isobars. So, this first one’s in Caryville, Tennessee, where they’ll take on Louisville. They’ll hit Charlottesville, Sarasota and Austin before their home opener April 30, with Louisville. I’ll have to get some side bets going with my friend Deb in StL, a Cardinal girl. I’ve probably cast enough Rick Pitino shade her way by now. I don’t see Michigan State on their schedule, although I’m sure they’ll encounter them in the Big 10s. This team rowed a bit last fall, and concluded their schedule with MSU October 30th. But that was a “novice” meet (freshman) and they didn’t keep score. But no doubt the Spartoon faithful are claiming victory. So go check out those lady rowers sometime! And if you’ve got a tall athletic daughter, consider sticking a paddle in her hand!
- Shepard C. Rothstein Adds Schmetterling to Full-time Rowing Staff. MGoBlue.com, 8/19/22. https://mgoblue.com/news/2022/8/19/rothstein-adds-schmetterling-to-full-time-rowing-staff.asp
- Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus – South Complex. MGoBlue.com. https://mgoblue.com/sports/2017/6/16/facilities-south-complex.aspx
- Rowing – University of Michigan Athletics. MGoBlue. https://mgoblue.com/sports/womens-rowing