For area schools, Henley regatta is a reward

St. Joseph's Prep and Malvern boys, Baldwin and Merion Mercy girls earned the trip.

Posted: June 13, 2011

For St. Joseph's Prep coach Jim Glavin, the goals for each high school crew season are simple: Teach youngsters how to row well. Be successful on the river. Win at least one of the significant races, the big ones being the Stotesbury Cup Regatta and the national championships.

Then and only then will it be time to discuss what Glavin calls the dream: going to the crown jewel of the sport, the Henley regatta in England.

"It's a reward after the season," Glavin said. "It means that you've accomplished enough here that you want to go to race the best high school crews, at least in most of the world."

That reward is no vacation cruise, as the Prep boys know. This is a busman's - or, in this case, boatman's - holiday.

Four area teams - St. Joseph's Prep and Malvern Prep boys, and Baldwin School and Merion Mercy Academy girls - will go to Henley this month, and two of them, the boys' squads, will experience what Glavin compares to a boot camp, or a survival-of-the-fittest test.

The Henley Royal Regatta, as the boys' event is called, offers a 2,112-meter course, much longer than the 1,500 meters that local teams usually race, and head-to-head competition, unlike the six-boats-across battles that take place here. Henley is scheduled for June 29 to July 3, although crews that have to go through qualifying will row on June 24.

The girls' competition, with the less-regal name of Henley Women's Regatta, runs Friday through Sunday. The course is only 1,500 meters, and races are head-to-head.

"When you're there and competing, it's unlike any other regatta that you've been to, and you really do feel the traditions," Malvern coach Craig Hoffman said of the Henley Royal Regatta, which began in 1839. "Things are done a certain way at Henley, from all aspects, and it's exciting to be part of it."

Of the four coaches going, Hoffman has the most Henley experience (four prior regattas) and the most boats that will race on the Thames River. Malvern has entered three quads in the Fawley Challenge Cup. Hoffman expects that at least two will have to go through qualifying to get in the Cup's 24-boat bracket.

Glavin will coach at Henley for the second straight year, after his varsity eight reached last year's semifinals in the 32-boat Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup. The Hawks will compete in the varsity eight again and also in the Fawley competition.

Baldwin and Merion Mercy and their respective coaches, Aaron Preetam and Mike Brown, will make their Henley debuts this week. Baldwin will have a double in the 10-boat Rayner Cup and a quad in the Bea Langridge Trophy competition, which has 14 entries. Merion Mercy has put a four with coxswain in the 16-boat Groton School Challenge Cup.

St. Joseph's Prep might face the biggest challenge of all the area boats.

In a field of 32 eights, the champion will have to win five head-to-head races over consecutive days. Think of it as half an NCAA basketball tournament bracket, with the winning teams having to return the very next day to compete. That's where fatigue, mental and physical, sets in.

And that schedule doesn't include possible qualifying races. Because the deadline for entries is Monday, teams don't know yet if they'll be seeded in the main draw or placed in qualifying.

Last year, the Hawks raced on four consecutive days, each time rowing 612 meters more than they had in each of their Schuylkill races.

"We got to Saturday, the semifinals, last year, but our [quarterfinal] race was so hard against the Australian champion that we had nothing left," Glavin said.

For all the prestige of Henley, any team can enter. Many less-established crews just have to get through qualifying. (The Women's Regatta, which began in 1988, has qualifying this year in only four of its 29 events.)

Still, all four area coaches set high standards that must be met before considering the regatta. That's because of their respect for Henley and because they want to represent their school, and country, well.

Also, the coaches realize the financial investment involved. Glavin estimates the trip - with 15 rowers (including two alternates), three coaches, and all the logistics - will cost $65,000-$75,000. The team is trying to raise as much of that as it can, but the school could end up picking up some of the cost.

St. Joseph's Prep decided to make the trip after its eight won at scholastic nationals. At Malvern, Hoffman said, the requirement is winning Stotesbury and nationals. Baldwin needs to be successful in the area, Preetam said, and fare well at Stotesbury. Brown said no Merion Mercy crew applies unless it proves to be the best in the country, a status that the four earned at nationals.

"We always had big expectations. I mean, I didn't expect to go to Henley," said Merion Mercy senior Amanda Lorei, the stroke on the boat. "You hear people say, 'Oh, we're maybe going to Henley.' Being a small program, you don't just send boats to Henley. It's kind of a big deal."

One issue that affects all four schools is how to get equipment in England. Most of the crews will rent boats and oars there, but at Malvern, one of the rowers' parents, Mike Lewers, bought a new boat for the first quad, Hoffman said. The boat is being built in Germany and will be carried to England on a trailer, the coach said.

Then there's the matter of having matching outfits for a possible appearance at a medal ceremony. On the Schuylkill, rowers get medals soon after their race, while still in racing attire. Henley's ceremony is more formal, requiring fancier clothes.

The answer can be as simple as Malvern's: blue blazers with the Malvern emblem, and khaki pants. For at least one crew, though, the decision was tougher. After all, these rowers still are teenagers.

"You have to have matching outfits. We're stylish, so that's not gonna come cheap," Merion Mercy senior Sara Romano said earlier this month.

Sarcasm growing in her voice, she added, "And, of course, we're girls, so we have to look good."


Contact staff writer Lou Rabito

at 215-854-2916

or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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