Story by Blake Sandlin, Staff writer
It’s been more than 20 years since Murray State’s President Kern Alexander announced his plans to form a new team on campus, one that stands today as the oldest club on campus.
Founded in 1996, the Murray State Crew Club, otherwise known as the rowing team, was the first and only of its kind in the state of Kentucky.
The newly-formed organization was met with skepticism from some. The sport first gained prominence at Ivy League schools like Yale, which first founded its team in 1843, and left some in the Murray community questioning the club’s relevance in an area with a lake known mostly for fishing.
Despite apprehension, the 1996 rowing team had a total of 172 athletes come for tryouts. The team was eventually cut to 31, and that marked the beginning of a program that is still intact today. Richard Goeller, an alumnus who served as president of the Crew Club until 2012, said the longevity of the program is encouraging.
“It feels good,” Goeller said. “I mean the fact that we’ve been around for so long through good times and bad, it’s just reassuring to know that the program has that kind of strength.”
Those bad times were most prevalent in Spring 2008, when the rowing program fell victim to university budget cuts. The cuts brought an end to rowing as a university sport, and many thought the program had seen its last days.
The team had other thoughts, however, and met in the summer of 2008 to discuss the future of the program. They decided to keep their athletic dreams alive, agreeing to continue as a university club.
The members of that 2008 team were instrumental in keeping the tradition alive today, although the transition from a collegiate program to a university club left the team struggling financially. The lack of a team budget forced them to get funding from unconventional areas. The club today charges each member dues to participate, which women’s rowing captain Lauren Frank says can range from around $185-260 depending on participation.
“The dues depend on how many people we recruit in the fall and spring,” Frank said. “So the more people we have in the fall the lower the dues are.”
Frank said the club uses other unique ways in order to provide extra funding for the team as well as help out the community.
“We do trash pickups on weekends, which is when we go out and clean up the sides of highways from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and earn an hourly rate and then the money goes straight back to the team,” Frank said.
Despite being a club from a small mid-major school, Murray State’s rowing team faces no shortage of top competition from around the country. Frank said the school faces collegiate talent like Clemson, Alabama, Colorado and Texas.
For rowers like Frank, she puts a lot of pride into being able to compete against the best of the best.
“As a rower, you want to be the best,” Frank said. “You are driven by a competitive spirit. Yes, it’s great to win against [Chattanooga] and [Vanderbilt], but you’ve got more pride beating teams who have all the means to be a better team, like Purdue or Clemson, but you outworked them.”
Frank said her decision to join the rowing team at Murray State was one that she would recommend to any other student looking to put in the work.
“I would tell them that it’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Frank said. “I have met my family through rowing and been to more places than I would have otherwise. If you are willing to put in the work, you will get so many memories out of it. I’ve been rowing for four years and I would do it again.”
The club is currently gearing up for the spring season after spending the winter training at the Carr Health Building. The first meet of the spring season will be held on Saturday, April 1 at Clemson.