The First Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints: 1986

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And so began the first race of the first six contestants of the first Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints at 8:00AM on a cold Saturday morning in January, 1986, in the gym of George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.

The ergs were the original model with bicycle wheels. There were approximately 30 ergs on the floor, brought by truck from the boat house.  Volunteer timers stood by every machine and clocked the times by hand.  There were no computers or jumbo screens, no software to follow the races.  Referees and officials kept a close eye on the contestants.  The warm-up room, a small room full of wrestling mats, contained two ergs.  There was a full complement of competitor of categories:  high school, college, masters, veterans, men and women, heavy and light. There were tee shirts, joyous winners, and winded losers.  Someone even threw up after a race.

Competing high schools that year included T.C. Williams (Alexandria), Washington & Lee (Arlington), Yorktown (Arlington), Jeb Stuart (Fairfax County) and Fort Hunt (Fairfax County).  College contestants came from the U.S. Naval Academy, George Washington University, Georgetown, University of Virginia, and Northeastern University (Boston).  There were masters and veterans competitors, both men and women, to fill out the ranks.  Legendary T.C. coach and oarsman Bob Spousta won his first men’s masters Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints race that day.

Booster president, Kitty Porterfield, and T.C. men’s coach, Mike Penn, conceived the idea of an erg race in Alexandria, because they were concerned about the lack of motivation and training among the athletes in the off-season.  An erg race would encourage winter work-outs.

Kitty and Mike were joined by a hard-working and diligent organizing team that included Pat Moore, who ran the floor; Marge Moore, who managed the registration process; Bill Fritz and Al Urquia, who headed up the referees and judges; Barbara Trees, who supervised the concessions; Bill Clayton, who handled the finances; Pat Smith, who oversaw all the technical needs in the gym; and Georgia Brown, an ACPS employee who became the facilities manager for the day.  Dozens more adults managed the traffic in the gym, supervised the warm-up room, sold the tee shirts, and handled the clean-up.

The event, one of the first satellite races of the CRASH-B Sprints (begun in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1980), was organized under the auspices of the T.C. Williams Crew Boosters, with the help of CRASH-B leaders and Dick and Pete Dreissigacker, designers of the Concept2 ergometer.  Alexandria City Public Schools hosted the event.  The first erg sprints was definitely a team effort, and the team has only grown:   competitors, coaches, volunteers, and school employees—all pulling together for the young people of our region.

[Prepared with the help of Kitty Porterfield, Mike Penn, Mike Porterfield, and Steve Weir.]

Alexandria’s MidAtlantic Erg Sprints Yield Record Turnout

This article first appeared on alexandrianews.org on Feb. 12, 2016

On Jan. 30, T. C. Williams High School hosted the 2016 MidAtlantic Erg Sprints, showcasing an arena of success that has been building over 30 years of competition. The MidAtlantic Erg Sprints began in 1985 as a way to motivate a handful of rowers to stay in shape through during “off-season” and are now the world’s second largest indoor rowing competition and the largest for high school athletes.

Sanctioned by U.S. Rowing and hosted by Alexandria Crew Boosters, the competition drew rowers and coaches from all over the region to the Gerry Bertier Gymnasium to compete in 137 different events. The competition attracted over 2,000 entries from 130 teams, with competitors ranging in age from 5 to 88. Olympic athletes, veteran and novice rowers, disabled athletes, parent-child pairings and rowers of all ages and abilities joined together to test their strength and endurance.

The MidAtlantic Erg Sprints presented medals for individual performances and trophies for consolidated performances. Woodrow Wilson High School captured the trophy for the top high school rowing team, and Virginia Tech Crew earned first place honors as the top Collegiate Rowing competitors. Annapolis Junior Rowing Association took Baltimore’s Junior League honors, James River High School Rowing took EVSRA and Woodrow Wilson High School won WMIRA as well as total overall. The MedStar NRH Paralympic Sport Club rowers dominated the top Fitness Club Team category again this year.

Stars of the day included rowers powering through a distance of 2000 meters, qualifying for the CRASH-B World Indoor Rowing Championship on Feb. 28 in Boston:

  • Veteran Rower William Brownlee from St. Andrew’s Rowing Club, for the second consecutive year;
  • Robert Spousa from the Occoquan Boat Club;
  • Paul Siebach, lightweight rower from Northern Virginia Rowing Club;
  • Christian Tabash and Joseph Johnson, both from Gonzaga College High School.

High Schools: Gold medal recipients included  T.C. Williams’ Jillian Jones (kids 500M) and Blythe Markel (junior women 1500M lightweight); Bishop Ireton’s Elizabeth McCabe (junior women 500M championship lightweight) and Clayton Kiyonaga (junior men 1500M); Abigail Koerner (junior women 20-minute row lightweight); and Sam Snedden from Woodrow Wilson (junior men 2000M). Two T.C. Williams rowers grabbed silver medals: Kelly Jones (junior women 1000M) and Ailysh Motsinger (womens open 2000M lightweight).

Alexandria Community Rowing competitors Christina Swartz (veteran women 2000M), Mary Cato (veteran women 500M sprint championship) and Lori Criado (masters women 30-minute row) took home gold medals.

The race field contained great performances from all categories—seniors, juniors, adaptive rowers—impressive and inspiring in their own way. Full race results and photographs from the event are available on the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints website.

Boats out of Water: The 30-year rise of the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints

This article first appeared on wtop.com on Feb. 6, 2015

By Noah Frank

WASHINGTON — It’s the nation’s second-largest indoor rowing event.

That’s a sentence worth reading at least twice, to really appreciate what it means.

When winter’s grip takes its hold on the mid-Atlantic region, turning even the wide, flowing Potomac into sheets of ice, rowers are forced indoors to train on ergometers, or simply “ergs.” The devices measure the amount of work the rower performs, like a treadmill.

And so, on a chilly Saturday in the dead of winter 30 years ago, rowers began to meet at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School. They raced on ancient predecessors of today’s ergs — wooden contraptions that used bicycle wheels and lacked any timing technology. Race times were kept by hand, and there were just 30 machines, with two more for competitors to warm up on.

Last weekend, the Erg Sprints celebrated its 30th year, having expanded to more than 1,700 athletes. They came from 13 states and D.C. packed the gym at T.C. Williams all day on Saturday, racing several events at a time, more than 350 in all over the course of the day. The lacquered, hardwood floor was home to 120 machines, with 80 more in the side rooms for warmups.

“This has got a 30-year history, and it’s one of those things we always try to keep improving,” said Steve Scroggs, president of the Alexandria Crew Boosters and one of the Erg Sprints organizers.
One way the event has improved has been raising its profile — it now attracts Olympic athletes. While the focus of the event is on the high school level — a pair of “Rowing in College and Beyond” seminars were held in an adjacent classroom — a pair of 2012 Olympic rowers competed, including gold medalist Esther Lofgren.

“If you’re a rower, you know about it,” says Lofgren, who set a world record in the Open Women Erg Half-Marathon last Saturday. “It’s a really neat way to be with the rowing community. Our training can be very individual, so being here with thousands of other people, it makes you feel like you’re a little less crazy.”
It is certainly a chance for young athletes to be inspired through the cold months that keep them off the open water. If it weren’t enough having athletes at the top of their game to watch, there are the adaptive rowers, whose mere presence is enough to silence anyone complaining of early alarms for practice or long training sessions.

Some of the adaptive rowers are missing limbs; others, their vision. Some have to be strapped to their ergs to stay in balance. And yet, they do whatever they have to in order to compete.

“You’ve got returning veterans; you’ve got folks with disabilities,” says Scroggs. “I want all of our rowers that sort of feel sorry for themselves after getting up early in the morning, and how horrible they feel after going 2,000 meters, to suddenly see these folks with disabilities. They have found ways to overcome their challenges, and it’s inspiring.”
The races have a practical purpose as well. Rowing isn’t cheap — a racing scull runs in the tens of thousands of dollars. So each year, all-new ergs are bought en masse for this event at a discount, then sold to schools and rowing clubs around the region to raise enough money to fund the program.

It takes months of planning and more than 250 volunteers the day of the event to pull off something on this scale. But the older generation of local rowers knows the value it brings for the next wave of competitors.

“You don’t just put one of these things on at the last minute,” says Scroggs. “It keeps sort of the passion going, especially with the younger generation, for rowing.”

While a single erg machine evokes the slow wash of a wave sweeping the shore, when dozens move in concert, at high velocity, it turns a high school gymnasium into an engine room aboard an ocean liner, each human engine chugging rhythmically in concert. If you close your eyes and let it wash over you, you might almost think you’re on the water.

New World Record Set at Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints

This article originally appeared on row2k.com on Feb. 5, 2014

By Lou Zickar

ALEXANDRIA, VA – A new world indoor rowing record was set in Alexandria this past weekend at the 29th MidAtlantic Erg Sprints, which was held in the Gerry Bertier Gymnasium at T.C. Williams High School on Saturday, February 1st.

The record was set by Tom Darling of the Cambridge Boat Club in Massachusetts. Competing in the 2000 Meter race for veteran men age 55-59, Darling blasted the hinges off the previous world record by covering the distance in a time of 6:12.6, which was over six seconds faster than the previous record of 6:18.6 set by Dick Cashin in 2009.

“When you think about what Tom Darling did, it’s really quite an accomplishment,” stated Jeff Byron, the Director of the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints. “Rowing 2000 meters is the equivalent of rowing the length of a football field over 21 times, which essentially means that he was going goal line to goal line at about an 18 second clip. That is an incredible athletic achievement. It’s also another reason why indoor rowing is growing in popularity and being recognized as one of the ultimate tests of fitness and endurance in sports.”

In addition to capturing the world record, Byron said, Darling also won the right to compete in the CRASH-B World Indoor Rowing Championship in Boston on February 16th. Also winning the right to compete in the CRASH-Bs as a result of their performance at the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints were: Paul Siebach, who came in second behind Darling in the 2000 meter competition for veteran men age 55-59 with a time of 6:50.3; Bob Spousta, who won the 2000 meter competition for veteran men age 60-64 with a time of 6:42.8; Katherine Ashton, who won the 2000 meter open weight competition for college women with a time of 6:51.4; Eileen Ryan, who won the 2000 meter competition for veteran women age 60-64 with a time of 8:02.2; Terry Walters, who won the 2000 meter competition for veteran women age 55-59 with a time of 7:44.7; and, Catherine Coffman, who won the 2000 meter competition for veteran women age 50-54 with a time of 7:52.

The MidAtlantic Erg Sprints is the largest qualifying event for the CRASH-B Championship. First held in 1986, the Erg Sprints have also grown to become the second largest indoor rowing competition in the world, and the largest event of its kind for juniors. According to Byron, this year’s competition featured over 1,500 athletes competing on 120 ergometers that were set up on the race floor inside the Gerry Bertier Gymnasium. The athletes ranged in ages from under 10 to over 70, and included some of the top high school, club and collegiate rowers in the region.

The athletes came from such area high schools as T.C. Williams, Bishop Ireton, West Potomac, Thomas Jefferson, McLean, Yorktown, Washington-Lee, Bishop O’Connell, Lake Braddock, Langley, Loudon County, James Madison, St. Albans, Gonzaga, Georgetown Visitation, Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson, Churchill, Hylton, Oakton, Robinson, Wilson, West Springfield, Western Albemarle, Westfield, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, and the Academy of the Holy Cross. Also competing were such out-of-the-area high schools as Gloucester and First Colonial from the Tidewater region of Virginia, and Saratoga Springs, whose athletes and coaches drove eight hours from New York.

The collegians who competed came from such schools as George Mason, the University of Virginia, George Washington, Mary Washington, Liberty, Catholic University, the University of North Carolina, and Duke. Also competing were rowing clubs such as Alexandria Community Rowing, Potomac Boat Club, Occoquan Boat Club, Resilient Rowing, DC Strokes, Oakton Masters Rowing, Prince William Rowing Club, Capital Rowing Club, Rock Creek Rowing, Baltimore Rowing Club, and the Annapolis Rowing Club, while fitness clubs competing included athletes from CrossFit Annandale, CrossFit Capitol Hill, and CrossFit Impavidus Endurance.

Also racing were athletes from Athletes Without Limits and the Medstar NRH Paralympic Sport Club, who competed in the adaptive rowing events. These events featured three of the nation’s top Paralympic athletes, including: Daniel Ahr, who was a member of the 2013 U.S. National Team; Paul Hurley, who was also a member of the 2013 U.S. National Team and is a World Rowing Bronze Medalist; and, Dana Fink, a member of the 2013 and 2015 U.S. Paralympic National Team who won the Bronze at the 2012 World Rowing Cup. Ahr and Fink won their events, while Hurley, in an upset, came in third behind winner Donald Balcom and runner-up Craig Clark.

For the second year in a row, the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints also featured a series of educational seminars for young athletes geared around fitness, good nutrition, and rowing in college and beyond. The seminars were led by such elite rowers as Sam Stitt, who rowed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now the Varsity Lightweight Rowing Coach at Georgetown and Emma Preuschl, who won a Silver Medal as a member of the 2008 U.S. Paralympic women’s rowing team in Beijing and competed in the 2012 London games.

“Over the years,” Byron said, “we’ve made a real effort to turn the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints into a competition that’s not only a good place to test your skills as an athlete, but a good place to learn more about the sport of rowing and what it takes to be successful in crew. Thanks to the work of many people — especially our 250 volunteers — this was one of our best events yet. We look forward to holding our 30th competition next year.”

To that end, Byron announced that next year’s MidAtlantic Erg Sprints will be held on January 31, 2015. For the complete results of this year’s competition, please visit www.ergsprints.com.

A Legacy, in the Water and Out

Renaming of Boathouse Will Honor Retired Coach’s Contributions as Motivator, Mentor, Father Figure

(This article ran on June 1, 2006. See the original here.)

By Jamie Stockwell, Washington Post Staff Writer

Anyone who has rowed the Potomac in Alexandria in the last 60 years is no doubt familiar with the sprightly 80-year-old man known simply as “Dee.” One only has to wander inside the boathouse on the banks of the Potomac in Old Town Alexandria to understand the influence the retired high school crew coach has had on the tightknit rowing community since the 1940s.Dee Campbell

Inside the A-frame structure, the storied career of T.C. Williams High School coach De’Arcey “Dee” Campbell is on display, with team photographs and numerous trophies. Next weekend, the most notable recognition of his work will be on the boathouse, when it becomes the Dee Campbell Rowing Center.

“The institution of rowing in Alexandria is Dee Campbell,” said T.C. Williams Principal John Porter. The school owns the boathouse, which was built in 1987 and is used daily by students and residents. “It is a tribute to the man who was, and is, the grandfather of rowing for Alexandria.”

In April, the Alexandria School Board approved renaming the boathouse, which has been known as the Alexandria Boathouse or the Madison Street Boathouse, because of its location on Madison Street in Old Town. Campbell will be feted at a dedication ceremony June 11, and dozens of his former students are expected to attend.

Campbell retired last summer after 46 years coaching. He moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., but plans to drive back to Alexandria for the festivities. In a soft gentlemanly drawl, Campbell said that he was informed last year by parents of former student rowers about the campaign to name the boathouse after him and that he feels “mighty honored.”

“I can’t stand to talk too much about it because I get choked up,” he said. “It’s a real honor. . . . I’ve got to feel good about it.”

After some prodding, Campbell talked about rowing competitions 40 years ago and the influence he has had on a generation of youths. He coached the boys’ crew team for several years and took over the girls’ team a year after it was formed in 1974. Many of the students were from single-parent homes, he said, with no strong male influences in their lives. Others had self-esteem issues and were awkward and shy.

And so, in a role that felt completely natural, he became a surrogate father of sorts to countless girls, the man to whom they could turn to learn about life, to know how it feels to be loved and supported simply for being themselves. The student rowers “were my children,” said the lifelong bachelor who has no children of his own. “I was married to crew.”

One woman who so adores Campbell and grew to rely upon his guidance and on him like a parent said that when it came time to marry her boyfriend, there was no doubt who would walk her down the aisle.

“After I met Dee, he immediately became a powerful force in my life,” said Nora Lansing, a 1981 T.C. Williams graduate who started rowing for Campbell the summer before seventh grade. “I had seen my own dad maybe three times in my life, and Dee stepped in and became that father for me. He encouraged me and became just a huge part of my life. It was life-sustaining for me. It made all the difference.”

Campbell worked as a supervisor for Washington Gas and coached the rowers before and after school. Lansing said that despite his day job, Campbell was never late.

“He poured himself into the kids. He always looked for the best in someone and would expect a lot out of you,” she said.

Their best is what he received, judging by the number of championships the T.C. girls’ crew team took home.

The team was formed two years after federal legislation prohibited schools from discriminating against or excluding girls from sports. Campbell said the team’s first coach didn’t enjoy the job and quit after a year, so he took over. The first year under Campbell, only 13 girls rowed, but the team won its first championship, at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta. Dozens of championships followed over the years, and more and more girls joined.

In 1996, Campbell was named the All-Met Girls’ Rowing Coach of the Year by The Washington Post, which recognizes the region’s best players and coaches. The following year, the undefeated senior women’s eight became the only women’s eight in U.S. history to sweep the renowned Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, the Scholastic Rowing Association’s national competition and the Canadian equivalent.

These days, the T.C. Williams girls’ team boasts an average of 85 athletes. In addition to instilling a lifelong love of the sport in hundreds of girls, the team and Campbell have launched numerous rowing careers, including that of Linda Miller, who competed with the U.S. team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Miller, who coaches the boy’s crew team at Woodrow Wilson High School in the District, said Campbell “planted the seed and then nurtured it all the way to the national team.”

“He’s the reason I became any kind of athlete whatsoever,” she said. “I didn’t do sports at all because I had asthma and was always sick. But he gave me the confidence and the motivation to try. My love of the sport came from him.”

Still, it wasn’t so much Campbell’s passion for rowing that Miller said she continues to carry with her, but the lessons he taught her and the other students about life. Campbell helped them develop the talents and traits that would carry them into adulthood, she said.

Since the 1940s, when Campbell began rowing at what was then George Washington High School in Alexandria, his muscular frame and broad grin have been fixtures on the water and at the boathouse. The accolades he has received from coaching and mentoring hundreds of students have made him an icon in the city.

So it was fitting that the city’s only boathouse be named after him, said Debbie Wells, president of the Alexandria Crew Boosters, the fundraising arm of the student teams. Wells said it is traditional to name a boat for someone who has made a significant contribution to the rowing community.

“But a boat just didn’t seem like enough,” she said. “The boathouse, now that just seemed like the perfect idea. It’s something good and positive for the community.”

Wells and other crew boosters spearheaded the effort and collected dozens of e-mails from students and parents, presenting them to the School Board for a final vote in late April. It was a unanimous decision.