HISTORY INDEX> The Four Oarsmen

Hillsdale rowing team [Click here to view full size picture]

Unlikely as it may seem, Hillsdale once sported a rowing team composed of four young men.
These four-Captain Clarence Terwillliger, Lou F. Beckhardt, J.D. Wilson, and E.B. Van Valkenburg, with only two months rowing practice on Baw Beese Lake, won in1879, the Saratoga, N.Y. regatta, the most prestigious amateur rowing contest in the U.S.

It was reported that the team won the national honors “by the fastest time ever made in a mile and a half straight away amateur race.” The team returned home to an enthusiastic welcome with flags flying, bells ringing, and crowds cheering
For three years the Baw Beese crew, the Hillsdales, competed and won the national American “Amateur Rowing Championship.” They competed against teams in New Orleans, and Philadelphia and never lost. In the spring of 1882, the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen decided to send the Hillsdale group to England to represent America in the department of Athletic Amateur Contests to be held in the summer of that year. Money for their passage was raised and a new set of oars was given to the men, as well as other necessary equipment.

From the beginning, the crew was met with ridicule and derision by the English rowing teams. The Oxford Rowing team indicated that the Hillsdales could not be recognized as amateurs by English standards.
Finally the group was entered into a race at Putney on the Thames River. However, in every previous contest in the U.S. the team had rowed on smooth water of lakes and over short courses. The Thames River not only has a strong tide, but is crooked and many boats ply the River at all times creating obstacles to small rowing craft. Additionally the length of the race was to be four and a half miles.

Despite the fact that the vessel, which was to clear the way, only created a wash against their boat and that the Hillsdale team was given the side of the River’s course while the English team was positioned in the center of the River, the oarsmen from Hillsdale managed to gain a healthy lead. Then disaster struck. Captain Twilliger’s seat broke. Frantically he tried to repair the seat stopping the craft in mid-course but to no avail. The jeering crowd gave the Americans no sympathy but cheered loudly as the English crew moved ahead.
In spite of these tremendous odds, the crew continued to row manfully - again gaining on their opponents. Yet they could not overcome-losing by three lengths. As the team lifted the boat out of the water, one of the members sadly remarked, “this has been indeed, a black Friday for us.”

However, later it was agreed by the English commentators that only the unforeseen accident of the broken seat denied the Americans the championship title.
Returning to the U.S. the Hillsdale team was greeted as heroes. They had made a name for themselves and for the city of Hillsdale.

Source: 150 years in the Hills and Dales, Vol. II.

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