The words came out of the coxswain in a familiar litany.
OK, Line it up ladies. We're going to take it outside. Let's run . . . let's take a step forward toward the river. Careful. Toward me.
There was no drama, simply a shell being prepared for a race, same as any other, except this was Dad Vails.
"You're going to use everything you know," Temple women's coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski told her varsity eight.
A few miles to the east, Temple's graduation commencement was due to start - almost to the minute if the ceremony began on time. There were a couple of seniors in the V-8 but they'd known for some time that they would be here at the Schuylkill, that Temple's academic calendar and the rowing calendar collided this year. As one of them put it, you don't row all year to miss Dad Vails.
"There would be no point to racing this spring at all," said senior coxswain Eleanor Oken after her varsity four had moved through out of the morning heat.
And what would Temple rowing be without one final sacrifice? Those shells weren't coming out of a shiny boathouse, just a loaded Quonset tent. This was the group, men and women, who were cut and then restored over a year ago after a firestorm of protest. They feel lucky, a number of them said, that they got to finish what they started. Thursday, there was a ceremony for graduating student-athletes. They saw other athletes from other sports who weren't as fortunate, finishing school but without a team.
The restoration of the boathouse they never got to use is getting started. How long has it been since Temple had used their old home? Scott Waters, a volunteer men's assistant, wore a T-shirt with the answer. The front said Temple rowing, 2008. On the back, just the word Condemned.
"My freshman year," Waters said, sitting by the river's edge.
The Temple men's Varsity Eight rowed by, the fastest overall qualifier out of the morning heats, pushed down by the river by a strong duel with Delaware. Owls men's coach Gavin White pulled up in a golf cart. He pointed out that times don't mean anything, especially in heats. Nobody is at full speed if they're not racing for their lives. He likes his boat, though. Full of juniors, which means full of hope.
White knows all about the sacrifices. His golf cart was pointed upriver toward the pristine Gillin Boathouse, home to St. Joseph's. "The picture here - the haves, the have-nots," White said. "It looks like a palace." He appreciates the Hawks coaches, White quickly added. They let him use their dock to get on the water. "Good guys."
The hope - actually the stated plan - is that the East Park Canoe House, still behind a fence - Hard hat area. Wear them or leave - will be ready by the 2016 Dad Vails. An equally important project to restore the sea wall that fell into the river just north of that boathouse is in full swing, due for completion at mid-summer.
"They've started dropping off supplies to the parking lot this week so it's moving," Grzybowski said of the boathouse project itself.
This Owls program, historically significant to Philadelphia rowing, always makes do with what it's got. No graduation? They held their own pseudo-ceremony Thursday evening on the back deck of the Crescent Boathouse, down on Boathouse Row. Beforehand, Gryzbowski found Pomp and Circumstance on her iPhone.
The mood around the tents Friday morning was upbeat, final preparations performed without signs of nerves. The name of a strong supporter of the program who had died the week before was carefully taped on a rented boat. The Vera Hutton was ready to go down the river with the men's junior varsity eight.
"Trust the base," Gryzbowski told her varsity eight. "This is the fastest crew we've had at Dad Vails in years. . . . Dig in. Find the rhythm."
Purdue beat Temple down the river in the heat but the Owls women easily secured one of the two spots directly into the semifinals, which meant they didn't have to row in the afternoon Repechage, a back route into the semis that would require an extra race. The varsity eight would be off until Saturday morning, joining Drexel and St. Joe's among others in the semis.
That all meant Annie Buckley, a senior in the 2 seat of Temple's varsity eight, could get to her Fox School of Business graduation ceremony Friday over on campus at 4:30. She was glad about that. "My mom is happy," she said.