by Jack Calhoun
When Whit Mitchell was an undergraduate at UNH he had a profound impact on the program. He actually never rowed at UNH, he was the coach for 4 years, from his Freshman year through Senior year. Whit had rowed at the South Kent School in South Kent, Connecticut before coming to UNH.
The fact is that without Whit stepping up at beginning of his Freshman year, UNH rowing could easily have stumbled into oblivion. Whit was a tireless advocate for rowing at UNH, and for 4 years he was UNH Rowing’s greatest advocate. Whit and a few others of us never took no for an answer, and a few administrative antics by the officers of the UNH Crew Club assured our long-term survival. Perhaps the most creative thing we did in Whit’s first year was to take out a mortgage through the then Durham Trust Company (the local bank) in order to build the boat house at Jackson’s Landing . The UNH Crew Club collateralized the loan with the two new heavy wooden Garofolo eights that had been donated to the club two years previously.
The fact of the matter is that once the University administration realized that the UNH Crew Club had done this, the Department of Club Sports and Recreation immediately paid off the mortgage with the Durham Trust Company, thus assuring that UNH Crew had a boat house facility.
Whit will perhaps never get the credit from the University that he fully deserves for the establishment of UNH Rowing. During his summer break in 1976 he returned to his home in Hanover, NH where many Olympic crews from around the world were training out of the Dartmouth Boat House in anticipation of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Coincidentally two UNH women rowers – Liz Hills O’Leary (double scull) and Gail Ricketson (bow seat in eight – bronze medal) – were on the first US Olympic Rowing Team that year. It was the first time there were Women’s Rowing events in the Olympics.
That summer Whit managed to secure a seat driving the launch for Al Rosen, the diminutive former coxswain, who had coached the US Olympic Men’s Eight (Vesper Boat Club) to a Gold Medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Whit carried a notebook with him and wrote down everything that he learned form Al Rosen. After returning to Durham that Fall his coaching skills were significantly honed which helped the UNH Crews to become considerably faster, but having worked as a bar tender in Peter Christian’s – a Hanover watering hole – he kept us entertained with stories of the Olympic Crews that came into PC’s at the end of the day.
In addition, Whit also arranged with the coach of the Australian Olympic team to purchase their 10 Croaker oars at the conclusion of the Montreal Games, as they didn’t want to ship them back Down Under. Of course, the UNH Crew had no funds for this, and he just did it, hoping that we could come up with the dough when he got back to UNH in the Fall. Somehow we did manage to satisfy our debt, and for two seasons, the UNH Mens Varsity 8 rowed with very stiff Croaker blades that sported the green and yellow of the Australian Olympic Team.
It goes without saying that Whit’s dedication and academic sacrifices on behalf of the UNH Crew were immense. He made it possible for many many of us during the latter part of the decade of the 1970’s to have what for many of us were powerful experiences of accomplishment and success that were integral to our UNH experiences.
Jim Dreher (of Durham Boat Club and Oyster River Rowing) had the vision that Durham and UNH were well-suited to rowing, and he planted the seed. Dwayne Hickling (who attended last Fall’s Reunion) was a graduate student who had rowed at Syracuse and got UNH Crews to think of themselves as something more than an afternoon rowing society as we won a number of races in the Spring of 1975. However, without a doubt, it was Whit Mitchell who got us to a point of technical proficiency and success in the New England region and then in 1978 at the Dad Vail Regatta where the men and women won several medals – including gold.
The fall of 1980 displayed the impressive growth of the men’s program. Coached by Panama and led by Steve and Freddy Puksta, Doug Gardner, Tim Stout, Bruce Deming and others and coxed by Jim Quigley, the men’s 8+ won the “Club 8+” event at the Head of the Charles. As Jim was thrown into the Charles, many other members of the boat dove in as well.
Following that race, Doug Gardner assembled a group of lightweight men to attend the Braxton and Frostbite regattas, where the lightweight, collegiate 8+ events are the highlight of the regatta. The team dodged the ice forming on the Oyster River to practice for the mid-November races. We couldn’t afford to trailer our boat to Philadelphia, so Doug arranged to borrow a boat from UPenn. We arrived on the Friday to take a practice row and the boatman looked around the boathouse and gave us a boat off the bottom rack.
Over the next 2 days, the 8+, coxed by Jim Quigley, made a serious statement to the rowing world about UNH Crew, winning both races over UPenn and other top programs. One race was led from start to finish. If you are ever with Jim Quigley, ask him to tell you the feeling of coxing this boat…..
The fall of 1981 saw a very different men’s team. A large portion of the Head of the Charles 8+ hadActual number worn by bow rowing in 1981 Head of the Charles graduated, yet, UNH Crew was assigned the #1 starting position for the race. Because there is no boat to “chase”, it is very difficult to repeat winning an event. The men had a pretty good row, pulling ahead of the #2 starter. But in a head race, you really have no idea until the results are posted. Without computer timing, it was not until later in the day that the unofficial results were posted and the UNH men were shown as coming in in second place by only a few seconds. This was a huge accomplishment for this group of mostly underclassman.
The following weekend, at the Snake River Regatta in Worcester, Panama was seen with a new swagger in his stride. He had just learned that the WPI boat that had beaten us at the Head of the Charles had cut the corner too closely before the Elliot Bridge and passed on the wrong side of a buoy, incurring a 10 second penalty and dropping them to 3rd place! UNH Crew had repeated as winners of the Head of the Charles!!