Father Judge rowing coach Phil Roche hasn’t missed a Stotesbury Cup Regatta in more than 50 years, and that includes his time rowing as a student for the Crusaders.
He won a junior eights race when he was a sophomore. Now, he looks to pass on his knowledge to the current generation of Crusaders.
Roche started coaching at Judge as an assistant in 1971, the year after he graduated from the school. When the head coach left two years later, Roche took over while still a junior in college.
“When I was at that age, I could do anything the kids were doing,” Roche said Friday on the first day of what organizers call the world’s largest high school regatta. The regatta, held on the Schuylkill, continues Saturday with more semifinals and the finals.
Friday’s events included time trails and several semifinals. More than 970 boats from 195 schools in the United States and Canada and more than 5,000 competitors are expected to compete over the two days.
Roche, who retired as an English teacher at Judge last June, said he has no plans on retiring as the school’s rowing coach.
“I like being here,” Roche said as he stood on the deck near a boathouse. He smiled as he pointed to Friday’s bright blue sky and the Philly skyline.
Roche is known for his strict no-nonsense personality. Jacob Rodriguez, a junior rower, had an older brother who rowed for Roche at Judge.
As he joined the program, Rodriguez said he heard stories about Roche from his brother. So he was prepared for the veteran coach when he stepped into a boat. Roche has, Rodriguez said, also helped him become aware of other important things.
“Honestly, he’s helped me even throughout school,” Rodriguez said. “My schoolwork is just as important as anything else.”
Roche has drilled into his players that the success of the team comes first.
“You come last,” said junior Thomas Gola. “He really hammers into you that this is about the team. It’s not all about you.”
Judge finished fifth in its heat in the senior four on Friday to advance to Saturday’s semifinals.
The Germantown Friends’ rowing program wasn’t considered a varsity sport just two weeks ago.
But, as the Tigers raced in the Stotesbury on Friday, they could finally say they were. But for coaches Aaron Preetan and Jackie Davison, that fact didn’t make much difference.
“I don’t think it changed a lot of what we’re doing,” said Davison, who is in her second year with GFS. “I think it’s good for the kids to have recognition that they’re varsity-level competitors. But for what we’ve been working toward, I don’t think it matters too much whether we’re club or varsity. We’re just trying to create a good program for the kids."
GFS rowing began as a club sport in 2015 after Preetan coached at Gordon Rowing Services. That was a program designed for individual rowers to compete under their school’s name even if they didn’t have a rowing team. When that program ended, Preetan, who teaches at GFS, was hired as the school’s coach, and the sport became a club team.
Though rowing was not a varsity sport before May, Preetan and Davison still always looked for cutting-edge techniques to give their team an advantage.
For example, Preetan and Davison recently had the team take blood-lactate tests. The results show where an athlete’s muscle threshold is when they are in training. Using tests like that, Preetan and Davison said they want their athletes to train smarter and efficiently then they have been.
“I think we hold a pretty high standard for our kids,” Davison said. “We expect a lot out of the kids and demand a lot out of them. The kids that are willing to stick with it and meet those standards are the type of kids you’re going to want.”
All five of Germantown Friends’ seniors will be rowing or have been invited as walk-ons for Division I teams. It was never about having the title “varsity” that inspired Preetan and Davison to build a competitive program.
“I think we just took pride in the kids,” said Preetan, who has coached rowing for 21 years. “These kids work exceptionally hard. We work them as hard as we can, and we show them where their limits are because they really don’t know.”