Origin of Case Crew

by Tom Hudak ‘92


Case Crew first took to the water in the fall of 1991. We launched an 8+ from the Western Reserve Rowing Association Boathouse docks, immediately turned the shell, and brought it back in. We had about 5 minutes total time on the water and would not see it again until the following spring. This small but triumphant event marked the culmination of efforts to finally put a shell full of CWRU students on the water.

It all began in the summer of 1990. Following my sophomore year at Case, I was back in my hometown near Pittsburgh hanging out with some high school classmates. One of them, Matt Boron (Duquesne University Crew) was telling tales of rowing narrow boats at all hours of the night (5:30AM was “night” then!). I had seen crew in movies and photographs, but never thought it existed as close as Pittsburgh. I decided to explore further and enrolled in a learn-to-row program at Three Rivers Rowing Association which had just completed a beautiful new boathouse. Despite a fellow learn-to-row participant catching a seat-ejecting crab on our first outing, I was hooked. I gave serious thought to “trying out” for crew once I returned to Case in the fall. After all, crew seemed to be a big college sport, surely Case had a team.

1992 Toledo
1992 Toledo International Regatta
Shawn Cornelius & Bill Dimmock
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After returning from summer break I learned there was no crew at CWRU. I posted a few flyers around campus adorned with a skull and crossed oars inviting interested students to meet. It was a bit awkward when we all got together and I had to reveal that we had no boats, no coach and no place to row -- all minor details that would eventually get worked out. The few that still remained interested met occasionally for training runs, while I worked to fill in the blanks (you know – boat, water, coach).

In the spring of 1991, I thought I had found some solutions at the Cleveland Rowing Federation, located just across and down river from the WRRA boathouse. They had boats (sort of), a place to launch (well at least waterfront property and talk of docks) and potentially a coach. Perfect! A group of us began sanding and varnishing CRF’s wooden boats to ready them for the water. The boat overhauling was slow-going and the docks never materialized, leaving us out of the water as the spring season continued without us.
Tom's Letter to Interested Rowers


In fall of 1991, I hit the Yellow Pages (pre-internet) and contacted Western Reserve Rowing Association where I met a group of rowers that included Tim Marcovy, Candace Pollack, Frank Bona and David Leong. These rowers were sincerely interested in helping Case build a sustainable rowing program. WRRA offered us access to the river and equipment for a reasonable per capita fee and even invited a representative from Case to sit on the WRRA board. We felt that WRRA was genuinely interested in promoting the success of CWRU Crew (and still are today).

WRRA also arranged for the club’s first coach. Arkaidy (“Ark”) Osinovskiy had just arrived in the US from the Ukraine and had coached at the national level. Ark would coach CWRU as well as WRRA programs. A few memorable lines from Ark were: “Tom, please tell Nimish (cox) ‘no smoke in boat’” (our coxswain would light up in the wooden boats during practice), and “Be strong like bull!”

1992 Car-Du-Pitt
1992 Car-Du-Pitt
From left to right: Rick Schur, Tom Hudak, Unknown, Coach Ark, Jen Augustine, Nimish Mehta, Tony Baroncotta, Jim Flynn and Lisa Pfaff
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Things were starting to fall into place. We now had boats, a place to row and a coach. Now we needed rowers. Founding member Jennifer Haven (Augustine) put together a much more appealing flyer that was posted around campus attracting about 30 people to another organization meeting. Jen, a freshman nursing student, was key to getting the program off the ground as she was able to recruit several fellow nursing students that become the core of the first women’s team. We obtained Undergraduate Student Government club status and received a small amount of money as a result. Our sport requiring $10,000 boats (a new 8+ back then), plus oars, coaching, and travel was to receive the same amount of USG money as the Disco Club.

In order to further drive down costs, I plead our case to then University President Agnar Pytte, pointing out that a rowing program would elevate CWRU to the status of other fine schools with rowing programs such as Harvard and Dartmouth and certainly help with admissions! I must have been convincing or pitiful since President Pytte provided a lump sum financial boost for the club from his discretionary funds. I view this as a pivotal event in the beginning of Case Crew as that additional money helped to defray the cost to each individual and allowed many without prior experience to try rowing. Once they became hooked, money was no object. (The team would later name its first shell after President Pytte after another generous donation in 1994 - photo here).

1992 Toledo
1992 Toledo International Regatta
From left to right: Nimish Mehta, Tom Hudak, Jim Flynn, Tony Baroncotta, and Rick Schur
More Photos

During our first few coached practices, we met at the boathouse and performed stretching, plyometrics and strength training exercises on land. This was a bit challenging considering our coach did not speak English. There was a lot of wild gesturing and shouting of “no, no, no” from Ark. After a few sessions we had overcome enough of the language barrier to safely hit the water for that first time.

For winter conditioning, we followed a pretty challenging program of strength training, plyometrics, stretching and running. We would meet thee weekday mornings and Sunday. In early spring, a few of us participated in the Hammer Ergatta at Orange High School hosted by WRRA and most of us travelled to Pittsburgh for the Indoor Sprints (sprints were 2,500 meters back then – more of a head race to those of us now rowing 1,000 meter masters sprints!)

Once we hit the water, we were able to send a men’s 4+ to Pittsburgh for a small race with Carnegie Mellon, Universtiy of Pittsburgh and Duquesne (now known as the Car-Du-Pitt). Mike Lambert of Three Rivers Rowing Association arranged for us to borrow one of their boats for the event. Mike’s willingness to help promote rowing in cases like this, even outside of Pittsburgh, rightfully got a boathouse named after him in Pittsburgh.

The first race we participated in as a team (all men and women) was the Toledo International Regatta in May of 1992. CWRU’s men’s novice 8+ walked away with silver, beating two of four boats in the event. Of all the medals I have accumulated in over 15 years of international competitive rowing, this silver remains my most prized.




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Last modified: June 16, 2008