Mercyhurst Magazine Fall 2020

Why Not Mercyhurst?

Condensed from Mercyhurst Magazine , Winter 1993

When Larie Pintea, a member of Mercyhurst’s Board of Associates, suggested the school should start a crew program shortly after the school admitted men, he found himself drafted to coach the team. Here he recalls its early days. I had been drafted. It didn’t take me long to get used to being called “Coach Pintea.” In fact, I learned to like it, quickly. Their first uniforms were blue headbands, handed out one at a time as they achieved certain levels of accomplishment. When they finally got lettered sweatshirts they were stunned. Suddenly, they got very serious about intercollegiate competition. I promised them that they would row Notre Dame University the first year. Since we didn’t even have oars, much less a boat, that was about as far-fetched as anything we imagined at the time. We managed, six days a week, to get them tired. But we also made them believe that they were a team — that together they would succeed as athletes. For many of them, it was the first such experience in their lives. I think what happened was that they saw we believed in them, and so, they believed us, even the rowing Notre Dame business. Every day’s practice ended with the cheer, “Beat Notre Dame!”They had become believers in a program without equipment, financed by about $600 donated by some of Erie’ s sports community. Our first boat, the “Cornell,” was an outright gift from the Westside Rowing Association in Buffalo. We launched it, complete with eight men, from the Erie Yacht Club dock. Since there was no coaching launch, this 200-plus-pound coach gingerly got in the 60-foot boat as the coxswain (steersman of a racing shell). The first afternoon in the yacht basin was chaos. There were oars thrashing and rowers almost levered out of the boat. Yachts were almost impaled as the lumbering “Cornell” careened from one side of the anchorage to the other. Yacht Club members watched in disbelief.

Out of pure consideration for those yachtsmen, I turned the rudder and took us out onto the bay. By the end of the afternoon we were rowing, well almost, sort of, sometimes. After two weeks of rowing on the bay, without hitting anything and without sinking, the oarsmen told me that they were ready to compete. Off we went to Buffalo to row Canisius. Our team lost by about six boat lengths, but they made believers out of everyone who watched. They rowed the course at 38 strokes from start to finish. The next fall, we returned to Buffalo and beat the same Canisius. It was only the Lakers second time in competition. Some weeks later, as promised, the Mercyhurst crew journeyed to South Bend, Indiana. The original oarsmen, bolstered by several freshman oarsmen, like to remember that on Saturday, Notre Dame’s football team was beaten by Southern California. The next day, the dedication of Notre Dame’s new boathouse, the Mercyhurst junior varsity eight beat the Irish crew by five lengths. The Laker varsity then whipped the Notre Dame varsity boat by seven lengths. The dedication party was over, quicker than expected. Dr. Allan Belovarac ’73, a new oarsmen in that 1971 crew, who would later become the Mercyhurst crew coach for years, recalls the time, “We had no dock, no boat house, we repaired seats every day to keep rowing, but we had an unconquerable spirit.”

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