"My son came home from high school one day and said, 'Dad, I signed up for crew and I signed you up to be a parent volunteer.' That was 24 years ago. At the time, I knew nothing about crew. My big activity in college was debate. My daughter is a debater and I used to take her around to all of her debates. My son said, 'If you support her, you have to support me, too.' So I studied the rule book and rowed one summer to see what it was like. It really is a terrific sport.
"I worked as a parent volunteer for four years and then I thought that I might as well get my license as an official. I had to pass a written and practical exam with a variety of situations. Every year, officials have to go to a clinic to maintain our license. We do all of this for really big pay...nothing. We're all volunteers. I spent my career, 30 years, at the Defense Department and retired a number of years back. Now, I can officiate more regattas. Many of the other officials in the areas are former rowers, parent volunteers, or other retirees. I really love to do this and be out on the water.
"In my 24 years, I have probably done more regattas at the Georgetown waterfront than anyone else because I love this location. It is a very challenging course. I tell new referees to come and work here because if something is going to go wrong, it will go wrong here. You have fishermen, kayaks, sight seeing and pleasure boats, so you need to be constantly on guard. I have worked a few regattas where a race is cancelled midway through because there is a cabin cruiser in the middle of the course. The local organized committee will reserve the water and send a notice to the Coast Guard who then shares it with mariners. People are supposed to read it, but they usually don't. Those who spend $300,000 on a boat feel like they can do what they want. That's why we, as officials, prefer cold weather for races when there are less people out on the water. As officials, our first, second and third priorities are safety and fourth, fifth and sixth are fairness.
"Many people don't know that D.C. has by far the largest concentration of high school rowers. When my son started rowing 24 years ago, the area had eight high schools teams. Now, there are 35 or so within the Washington, D.C. area, and 50 between Baltimore and Richmond. Rowing also did a lot for women's athletics in the area. There are more women high school rowers in Washington D.C. than there are men. We also have a lot of women officials in Washington. Now, a lot of colleges come to D.C to recruit rowers. Another interesting fact is that while rowing was an elitist sport in many places, it wasn't so in Washington. For a while, only public schools rowed here. Eventually, private schools were allowed to join.
"One last funny anecdote. After high school, my son went off to row at Wesleyan University. When he came to live at home after graduating, I told him that if he wanted to not pay rent, he had to sign up to be an official with me. So everything came around full circle after he pushed me into this 24 years ago."