As you look around the property of Alabama Crew you may think, “This is it? This is the home of Alabama Crew? What keeps that building standing?” Tin siding on three sides make up our boathouse, but it’s not what you see on the outside that makes our club; it’s the people and the dedication we have to the team. For eight years we have called that property “home”, but it hasn’t always been home to us. Before we had the use of this land, some might remember us launching out every morning from underneath the Cypress Inn.
Since 1987 we’ve been rowing on the Black Warrior River. Just a few rowers using whatever equipment was available and being coached from anyone who would or had the knowledge. The real change happened when Larry Davis, now the head coach of Alabama Women’s Rowing began voluntarily coaching the club in 1998. An extraordinary coach and rower, he began to shape the team into what it is today. As the club grew, the need for more boat-storage space was becoming quite apparent. In the fall of 2001, the club moved from its location from Cypress Inn to its now current location, but we had our work cut out for us.
Trees, vines, branches, and shrubs decorated the entire ramp leading to the water. The water couldn’t even be seen. What good is a rowing club without the use of water? The rowers faced a terribly difficult task of cleaning and overhauling the entire property to fit it to their needs. But it wasn’t done with tractors and large equipment. Instead, it was done through hours of manual labor with whatever small tools people had or were donated. The next two years were spent fixing up the place, keeping the grass cut, and adding a bit of paint where needed. On top of that, the boathouse needed to be fully equipped with racks to hold the boats and oars. Finally after all that had been accomplished, there was the problem of the dock. Alabama Crew was GROWING! And we were now able, through the generous donations of friends, family, and out of pocket dues, to purchase our first 8+! With much excitement we renamed our new boat the “Rama Jama”. But the problem came when it was time to bring it on the dock. Our ramp and dock were so small it was almost an impossible task to get that boat down there. It was time to remove the giant four foot pieces of Styrofoam that were supporting our docks and bring something a little stronger (and ok, a little classier) down there. Giving us an extra boost of encouragement was the Row Tide Regatta, which for the first time was being held from our new site. With all these crews coming to our property launching 8+’s, it was of the essence that we build our new dock as soon as possible. Of course in true college style, the dock wasn’t started until the day before the regatta. From 8:00am that morning until dark, people cut, hammered, and nailed wood. Without electricity or plumbing, we were at the mercy of the natural daylight. By 6:00am the following morning we were back at it again (and yes—the day of the regatta) but it all came together and for the first time, we could not only walk and 8+ down to the dock almost effortlessly, but we could hold two 8+’s at the same time along the dock! A happy accomplishment and milestone for the crew.
Through the years, we have always tried to go above and beyond our biggest achievements. It wasn’t long before “kick butt and take names” became not only our hopes, but reality. The members were increasing, the fleet was increasing, the popularity among campus was increasing, so our intensity was rocketing. Our jackets began popping up around campus and we were getting some recognition for it. The men and women of Alabama Crew were beginning to attend regattas that in the past had only been a glimmer of hope. But we still faced a difficult challenge every year of coming up with money.
With more members than ever before, the club was able to bring in more revenue through dues. The University would supply small supplements here and there every semester, but the real money was raised through fundraising. Bama-Dining and Rent-A-Rower became our most popular fundraisers. Every game day people were asked to work for Bama-Dining catering to different organizations. Rent-A–Rower started off each semester where one dedicated weekend, people would literally rent out a rower for labor of some kind whether it was yard work, house cleaning etc. It wasn’t much, but it kept us going and allowed us to attend more and more regattas.
Of course, there were set-backs along the way and for a club pushing its limits in all directions, set-backs can be detrimental. The prize 8+, Rama Jama, had managed quite a few times to cross paths with death as she had her bow knocked off several times and even a few other incidents…On a trip to a scrimmage against Tulane, the Wayback Layback, a kaschper 4+, were hurtled from our moving trailer on the highway and plummeted to the earth in three separate pieces. But times go on, we recover and make the best of bad situations such as those.
In the Spring of 2005, a select group of men and women attended the largest collegiate regatta in the US - Dad Vail Regatta held in Philidelphia, PA. It took hours of fundraising, and amazing donations, but Alabama Crew, for the first time, was representing the University farther and bigger than it ever had before. And once again, in true Alabama Crew fashion, we didn’t just pat ourselves on the back and call it a year. Instead, we looked to go to an even bigger regatta—the Head of the Charles held in Boston, MA. Once again, due to money, only a select crew could attend. Not only did they do well, they finished within the top 5% doing two things for the club: giving an invitation for a mens’ 4+ to come to the Charles again, but also, have another 4+ attend the regatta the following year.
As the years go by, technology increases and things begin to change and reshape. Larry Davis is now the Head Coach of Women’s Rowing. Alison Pollini and Jason Cottingham (past members of Alabama Crew) stepped up to lead our still dedicated and determined team, until the end of Spring 2010 when they both accepted prestigious job offers in other parts of the country.
We are currently in a transition period, but our club has still held onto its intrepid spirit. Over the past three years, we have had student members of our team step up to help coach, and with their help, we have brought home many medals– including the club’s first Head of the Hooch medals in several years! While we are still hoping for a more permanent coaching situation in the future, our club continues to grow and thrive as it did a quarter of a century ago.