University of Washington: Racing Heads West of the Rockies

Washington nears the finish line on Lake Washington to win the first ever eight-oared West coast championship against Stanford on June 2nd, 1907.  
Washington nears the finish line on Lake Washington to win the first ever eight-oared West coast championship against Stanford on June 2nd, 1907.  

Less than 10 years after the University of Washington opened it’s doors, coach James Knight had a rowing program in place. When in-state tuition was free, and a dorm room with light and heat cost just $12, Coach Knight – a former oarsman at Princeton and then the Detroit Boat Club – enlisted the help of local Seattle businessmen to financially support a four-man crew from California to head North to compete in the first intercollegiate race west of the Rockies.

On June 3, 1903, rowers from the University of Washington set out in their barge (or wherry) to the start line when an oarlock broke. A race starter, assuming the equipment failure could not be fixed, sent the California squad down the 1.5-mile course as an exhibition row. When they crossed the finish line, they found that the Washington crew had fixed the faulty oarlock and were headed back out.

To appease the thousands of spectators on the shore, the race was reset. Nearly three hours later, after an official’s boat propeller broke and all aboard were transferred to another vessel, the race got underway. Washington took the lead, and finished the course in 9:33, with California about three lengths behind. UW praised California’s sportsmanship, taking into account that the crew had already rowed a 1.5-mile exhibition. And California’s captain was sportsmanly, saying “…we were defeated in a fair and clean race. Hats off to Washington – intercollegiate champions.”

X