USRowing Annual Awards: Recognizing Lifetime Contributions to Rowing
By Beth Kohl • December 7, 2016
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – USRowing recognized seven outstanding members of the rowing community at the Annual Convention Awards Reception on Saturday, Dec. 3. Hosted by the 2017 World Rowing Championships, the evening’s co-hosts, USRowing CEO Glenn Merry and USRowing Board of Directors President Erin O’Connell, congratulated the individuals and programs on their contributions to the sport.
“Our longstanding tradition of awards allows us to put several individuals in the ultimate spotlight, to recognize not just an amazing year, but also for many, a lifetime of commitment to rowing,” said O’Connell.
Kicking off the evening’s program, USRowing board secretary Kris Thorsness presented the Joan Zandbergen “Mama Z” Award to Melissa Chun for sustained superior performance in her referee career. Celebrated for her positive attitude and organization, Chun made a significant impact in the southwest region of the country.
“A diverse referee corps is the only way we can continue to grow, to be more dynamic, to be more inclusive, and to be more relevant,” she said. “Young referees are on the other side of the fence now. They know the hard work and effort that each rower puts in every day. Rowers have the advantage of remembering sweaty palms at the starting line, the tremendous victories and steep losses. I think this experience can help bring new ideas on how to make our sport even better.”
Our longstanding tradition of awards allows us to put several individuals in the ultimate spotlight, to recognize not just an amazing year, but also for many, a lifetime of commitment to rowing.”
USRowing referee clinician and FISA umpire Bob Appleyard presented the Julian Wolf Award to Sheila Tolle, a longtime chief of the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships and a lead referee in the southwest region. The award pays tribute to a rowing official in the USA that stood apart from the rest in his/her contribution to rowing in the past year.
“I’d like to thank the athletes,” said Tolle. “There are many in this room that still pull an oar and that still coach. At one time or another, I’ve probably followed most of you in a referee launch. For me, the reason I keep doing this, besides the friendships I’ve made, is you.”
Narragansett Boat Club junior sculling coach Peter Wilhelm was honored for his dedication in making NBC one of the premiere programs in the country. USRowing board member David Banks presented the John J. Carlin Service Award to Wilhelm, which is given to an individual who has made significant and outstanding commitments in support of rowing.
“I have faith in the athletes and respect them,” said Wilhelm, in describing his coaching philosophy. “And I tell them to go fast. I give them opportunity, and the ability to make decisions and take on responsibility. It’s not easy, and we don’t always get it right, but we grow, learn and become better together.”
Next, USRowing board member and Rio Olympian Meghan O’Leary presented the Clayton W. Chapman Award to Polly Whiteside for her behind-the-scenes administrative role in organizing the Head of the Charles Regatta.
“I’m very humbled and honored for getting this award and having you all here to share the love and support with me,” said Whiteside. “Thank you to every referee with whom I’ve had the pleasure to serve at the Head of the Charles and other regattas as well.”
Wellesley College rowing coach Tessa Spillane accepted the 2016 Ernestine Bayer Award. In his moving presentation of the award, USRowing Board member Gary Caldwell recognized Ernestine Bayer as “the mother of women’s rowing in this country, and Tessa is one of her brightest children.”
To receive this award in [Ernestine Bayer’s] name is nothing short of remarkable. She was a boat-rocker and a wave-maker who paved the way for future generations of women rowers and coaches. I feel profound gratitude for Ernie’s efforts. She made my life’s work a reality, and I strive to continue her legacy.”
“My college coach shared many inspiring stories about Ernie Bayer, and when I first had the pleasure of meeting her as a 20-year old volunteer coach, she was already a hero in my mind,” said Spillane. “To receive this award in her name is nothing short of remarkable. She was a boat-rocker and a wave-maker who paved the way for future generations of women rowers and coaches. I feel profound gratitude for Ernie’s efforts. She made my life’s work a reality, and I strive to continue her legacy.”
Dr. Gavin White was honored with the association’s Man of the Year Award. USRowing board member Jim Dietz presented the award. “Gavin’s real legacy is how he created a culture at Temple that was a winning one,” said Dietz. “He created love of the sport with his athletes over three decades, and his athletes keep giving back as coaches, referees and Olympic gold medalists.”
Dr. White accepted the honor, and recognized several Temple University coaches, rowers and alumni in attendance. “Here’s a guy from Philly that got to go to Cologne, Milan, St. Catharines, Sydney, and all these different places, and I really feel privileged for these great coaching experiences,” he said.
The final award of the evening, the 2016 USRowing Club of the Year, was presented to Three Rivers Rowing Association executive director Jenn Grieb. Three Rivers won the inaugural Club of the Year Award in 2002, and again in 2010 and 2013.
“It is difficult to achieve what Jenn has achieved,” said USRowing board member Dan Herbert in presenting the award. “It’s remarkable, and what they are doing with our sport is important. It’s important for us to recognize it and to emulate it in our communities.”
“We’ve won this award four times, and every time, myself and my staff have been a part of it,” said Grieb. “It really amazes me what we’re able to accomplish with the staff that we have. They’ve put in more hours than they should, week after week. We have juniors, masters, adaptive and outreach programs all rowing at Three Rivers.
“While it is difficult to juggle from time to time, it’s incredibly rewarding to see all of those people work together to be a part of this Three Rivers team. We have juniors that get off the water from a two-hour summer camp, and they help with adaptive in the afternoon, then come back to cox for a corporate rowing program in the evening. We have masters that help out with juniors and adaptive. All of these programs really run together, and it’s just incredible to see.”
Meredith Scerba, the executive director of the 2017 World Rowing Championships and sponsor of the reception, closed the evening with a sneak peek at next year’s historic event in Sarasota-Bradenton. For the first time in more than two decades, the World Rowing Championships will be held Sept. 23-Oct. 1 at Nathan Benderson Park.
View a photo gallery of the USRowing Annual Awards Reception here.