BEN GRANT and Matt Scheuritzel came to rowing from slightly divergent paths. Grant is a senior three-sport athlete at Haverford School who is following what has turned into a passion; Scheuritzel is a junior one-sport athlete who gave up football to follow what has turned into a passion.
Together, the two tall, lean rowers make up one of the best heavyweight doubles crews in the country. They won the Philadelphia Scholastic Rowing Association city doubles championship on May 6. They will get tested in what is believed to be the largest high school event in the world, the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, with 5,100 competitors and 175 schools from the United States and Canada, being held on the Schuylkill River today and tomorrow.
How Grant and Scheuritzel came together, however, is the twist. They were only together for a week before they won the city championship. Scheuritzel never previously rowed doubles and Grant last rowed doubles 2 years ago. The pair originally rowed as part of a quad, a four-man boat. The only reason they're a tandem is because one of their quad teammates, senior captain Jakob Welljams-Dorof, came down with multiple ailments.
"We were forced into pairing Ben and Matt together," said legendary Haverford School crew coach Jim Barker, 77, who has been coaching the Fords since 1952. "We started rowing as a quad, and we thought we had one of the top quad teams in the city. At the top of our program, we're very strong, but very thin.
"When Jakob came down ill, I wanted to make sure that Ben went out with something, since he's a senior. You knew watching Ben and Matt row a quad together that that they would make a really good doubles team. We wanted to put people in a position where they go out with something."
Soccer looked like the sport Grant would pursue in college but he thinks his future is in crew. The Yale-bound Grant was a 3-year starter in basketball and soccer. He was the Fords' goalkeeper his sophomore and junior years, but didn't pick up crew until his freshman year, at the behest of a gym teacher and based on his older sister, Maddie, who rowed for Shipley.
The 6-5, 195-pound Grant has been able to juggle playing three sports at the highly academic private institution.
"My main focus was being directed to being a soccer goalie; I even thought about playing soccer in college," Grant said. "I started to become more serious about crew the spring of my junior year. I love basketball, but I know I couldn't take that to the next level. At a school like Haverford School, I could afford to play three different sports. It forces you to manage your time well. It sometimes got tough, but it's worked for me."
Scheuritzel is a 6-3, 180-pound junior. Like Grant, he also picked up crew as a freshman. But Scheuritzel was a former left offensive tackle in football, who saw some varsity time as a freshman. He was close to 220 pounds. But he played football because he was big. It was never really a passion. The first 3 months he lost close to 40 pounds. He now looks like an after shot in a before-and-after fitness commercial.
"I just wasn't that much into football," Scheuritzel said. "Part of the reason I didn't like football was my bone structure wasn't able to hold that kind of weight. Crew was a lot better for my body type. I lost close to 40 pounds my first 3 months. The thing that was kind of nice about it was that it wasn't conscious at all. I lost the weight naturally. I had to pretty much get a completely new wardrobe. I didn't fit in anything. I never was able to run a mile, and now I can run 10 miles."
What is still new to Grant and Scheuritzel is getting used to doubles. Scheuritzel bows (or steers) the boat. Grant and Scheuritzel row with their backs to the finish line, which makes it tough on Scheuritzel, who has to turn occasionally to navigate the boat.
"You look and turn while pulling to know where to row," Scheuritzel said. "It was pretty interesting to learn how to do it. It was just hard to do. It's hard to stay on course sometimes, while you keep turning around; it is a timing thing. You have to know where you are and when to turn. It's something I'm still trying to get down."
Grant is still learning to row from the stroke seat. He's used to rowing from the middle of the boat. "In the middle of the boat, you really don't have to think about anything, you just pull your butt off," Grant said. "The stroke seat is something I've adapted to, but I'm still making changes as to when to go faster or slower in the boat. Rowing doubles is a lot more strategic; you have to do a lot more thinking, which I'm fine with."
Barker has been to his share of Stotesbury Regattas. He jokes that he has been to the last 100. But he believes Grant and Scheuritzel are good enough to win the heavyweight doubles. "It's a 2-day marathon and only the fittest survive, and I know Ben and Matt are ready to go to war," Barker said. "Ben and Matt have the maturity to handle the pressure. These are two guys I'm confident in. If someone is better than we are, they better be damned good." *