Exeter first recognized crew as a sport in 1864, when a group of students purchased a four oared shell Winona and brought it back to the Academy. The five boys, members of the class of 1865 and known only by their surnames Whitewell, Rawle, Richards, Gold, and Sparks, alternated seats and took turns coxing as they rowed on the Exeter River. They stored the shell in the basement of the Second Advent Church, which conveniently stood beside the river.
In 1872, students sold shares of stock of the “Boat Club” to cover expenses. This plan proved too cumbersome, and in 1874 students restructured the Boat Club into a more traditional organization, led by a president, a vice-president (the two captains), a secretary, and a treasurer. The Club charged a two dollar fee to each member to cover the costs of the sport. In the same year, the Club built a new boathouse behind Water Street on the Squamscott River for $315. Crews were divided by classes, with captains and two boats each for preps, lower-middlers, upper-middlers, and seniors.
In the 1870s and 1880s, crews competed in one-third mile races in fours and sixes on the Squamscott. After Harvard wore silk crimson handkerchiefs to distinguish themselves from other crews in 1858, Exeter oarsmen adopted these colors for boat races. Ever since, the Academy’s colors have been maroon and gray.
From 1864 to 1883, crew remained a club sport at the Academy, funded only by its participants. Despite several enthusiastic oarsmen, the sport died out in the early 1880s. Charles Bell, an Academy historian, explained in 1883 that “Though it furnishes excellent exercise, [crew] is too expensive an amusement to be generally indulged in.”
Revival and Expansion
The Academy’s crew program experienced a revival in 1912 after Elisha J. P. Burgess and Corning Benton joined the faculty. They began the ongoing line of instructors who doubled as coaches. Funding for the sport came from alumni and institutional donations. Harvard (and later Yale) donated shells in the interest of training future collegiate oarsmen at Exeter. As interest in the sport continued to grow, a new boathouse was built on the Squamscott River for $2,000 in 1916. The long red brick building was named after Marshall Newell, Exeter class of 1890, who rowed at the Academy and at Harvard. The crews rowed intramurally except for two varsity boats which raced against Groton and Middlesex for the silver Columbia Cup.
By 1931, the program had grown so much that another new boathouse was built on the Squamscott with funds from the Saltonstall family. Around the same time, Chandler Sanborn became the first full-time boatman at the Academy. Hammy Bissell ’28 of the English department succeeded Mr. Benton as Varsity Coach in 1935. The program expanded so much that, in 1939, the squad was broken into three intramural teams – the “Riggers,” the “Rudders,” and the “Blades.” William G. Saltonstall (later named appointed Academy Principal, pictured right) coached the Riggers, Charles M. Swift ’31 coached the Blades, and Mr. Bissell coached the Rudders.
On May 23rd 1947, the varsity fours traveled to Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, where Exeter defeated Pomfret to win first place at an interscholastic regatta. This unofficial race became the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association Championship Regatta that is held today.
In 1952, Exeter’s first four went to the trials to represent the United States in Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, a tremendous accomplishment for a high school crew. The boat, consisting of David Wight, Frank Gutmann, John Antholz, Stem Lium, and Bill Becklean, defeated Union, Boston College, Harvard and the University of California. The boat lost to Navy and Cornell in the semifinals.
In 1964, the Academy sent its first crews to compete at the Henley Royal Regatta. The eight, consisting of Peter H. Coors, William W. Garry, Paul Y. Neskow, George H. Humes, Carl R. Krause, David T. Swift, Samuel P. Goddard III, Stephen T. Lindo, and Andrew J. Kopecki, lost to Groton. The four, consisting of Bruce W. Moulton, James H Willis Jr., Richard A. Kruger, Graham C. Hunter II and Ronald L. Krall won over First and Third Trinity but lost to Molesey in the finals.
The Modern Era
Although Exeter had won the NEIRA Championship five, seven and nine times for the first, second and third fours respectively, head coach Arthur Gilcreast moved the Exeter crews from fours to eights in 1970. Though this initially spread athletic talent more thinly across boats, it made more seats available to students, increasing the size of the crew program and helping it in the long run.
After female students were admitted to the Academy in 1970, the girls’ crew began in 1973 under the leadership of Coach Robert Grey. The shift from fours to eights and the addition of girls’ rowing at the Academy began the “modern” era of Exeter Crew.
Throughout the 1980s, it became clear that, considering the continuing growth of the boy’s and girls’ crew programs, the Academy Boathouse was not an acceptable facility. On October 6th, 1990, the William G. Saltonstall Boathouse was dedicated.
In 1996, after racing an undefeated season, the boy’s first boat won the USRowing Youth National Championship in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 1996 crew is one of only two eights from the NEIRA Regatta to ever win at the national level.
Loosely borrowed from A History of Rowing at Exeter by Katherine Scott ’93 and Kate Lehman ’93.