Tabor Academy celebrates a century of rowing

May 16, 2018

The month of May marks a century of Tabor Academy's rowing program—one of the oldest rowing programs in the country.

As a sport, rowing, also known as crew, reaches back to ancient Egypt. In its most common format, there are eight rowers per racing shell, as well as a coxswain. While the rowers row backwards, the coxswain faces forward, directing the boat and coordinating the rowers' strokes.

Marion native, and recent Tabor graduate, Jack Gordon's new documentary, "A Century of Tabor Rowing," aims to capture some of the magic and memories of a century of Tabor crew.

Tabor Academy will preview the documentary on Sunday, May 20, at 4 p.m. at Tabor's Fireman Center for the Performing Arts. The screening is free and open to the public.

The traditional date for the inception of the crew program, Gordon said, is around 1919. But extensive research in Tabor's library during his senior year revealed that it might have begun earlier than that.

"I've found that the program probably started more around 1917 or 1918," he said. "So, the anniversary of 100 years of crew is actually in 2018."

The program flourished almost immediately. In 1931, Tabor's rowing team competed at the Henley Royal Regatta. The regatta has been running since the mid-1800s, and predates any official rowing organization. It is one of the premier rowing events in the world.

The Tabor team won the regatta's Thames Challenge Cup in the 1936 Henley Royal Regatta, then won again in 1937 and 1939. In more recent years, Tabor's team has competed in England once every two years—their most recent victory came in 1965, in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, meant specifically for high-school teams.

"It's tougher to win these days," Gordon said with a laugh. "Rowing in Britain has just skyrocketed in popularity."

However often it may visit England, Tabor Academy still has large presence at the famous regatta. The Leander Club, one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, dedicated a room to Tabor at its clubhouse near Henley—alongside famous names like Yale and Brown University. The only other American high school to receive such an honor is the Kent School.

Tabor set down more rowing history in 1951, as a founding member of the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association, the league in which it continues to compete today. Tabor's boys eights team won the association's championship in 1952 and 1997.

In 1979, when Tabor returned to coeducational teaching, a girls' crew team was added. The schools girls eights team won the New England championship in 1988. Alongside the boys' teams, the girls' team has also traveled to the Henley Royal Regatta in the past.

Gordon rowed all of his four years at Tabor—when he wasn't making short movies (fittingly, the rowing team was often his subject).

While he enjoyed making videos, Gordon said that he'd always had a nagging to do something bigger and more professional. So when he started researching the history of Tabor's rowing team, the idea of making a documentary about its history blossomed.

"I wanted to see what the rowing team meant to others who were part of the program," he explained. "When I was on the team, it meant everything to me."

Gordon interviewed Tabor rowing alumni from the class of 1931 to the class of 2017.

"I wanted people's experiences and stories of their time on the crew team," he said. Subjects in the documentary include Tabor alumni who later became part of major crew teams—he has even chatted with a few Olympians.

His most memorable interview, he said, was with George Linzee, a member of Tabor's 1967 crew team. Linzee's team lost in the finals at the Henley Regatta.

"We talked for nearly two hours," Gordon reminisced. "He remembered everything in such detail. His passion was so evident. What it meant to him showed me why I'm working on this project, why this should be recorded. The crew team members are part of something bigger than themselves."

Gordon's documentary on Tabor's rowing team won't be his last.

"After this project, I'm definitely taking filmmaking more seriously now, and have already started a few new projects for other companies and organizations," he said.

He's balancing a fledgling filmmaking career with his time at the University of California, Berkeley, where he's the coxswain on the Division 1 team, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

Gordon was recruited to the team, he added, explaining the challenge that coxswains face during recruiting. There is only one coxswain per boat, so they are less likely to be recruited than other rowers.

"It's pretty remarkable to take what I learned at Tabor," he said, "and take it to the next level."

After Sunday's screening, Gordon and several other alumni rowers will discuss their experiences rowing at Tabor and beyond.