The History of Cal Crew
The University of California and its rowing program were both founded in 1868 and crew thereby became the first sport at Cal. The Cal men's crew began its dominance of national and international rowing in earnest in 1924, with the hiring of Carrol ("Ky") Ebright to lead the Bears. Over Ebright's leadership of 36 years, Cal Crew became synonymous with Olympic Gold Medals and National Collegiate Championships; in fact, the Olympic standards set by California will likely never be surpassed.
Over the years, Cal has gone on to represent the United States three times (and to win each time) in the Olympic Games, more than any college or university in the world. 1928 proved to be a landmark year in Cal crew history as the team compiled arguably the greatest season in the history of collegiate rowing. The crew was undefeated domestically, went on to become the American entry in the 1928 Olympics, and brought home gold from Amsterdam.
The Cal men repeated its Olympic conquest four years later with a close victory over Italy in the 1932 Olympics at Long Beach, California. That crew also laid claim to being the fastest ever, as it too was unbeaten all year. Sixteen years later (and after Ebright had to rebuild the program that was shut down during World War II), Cal brought home a third gold medal, this time from the 1948 Olympics at Henley, England. Ebright's crews also won a total of six National Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Championships. In fact, some followers argue that Ebright's 1939 IRA champion might have been the fastest of all of Cal's fine crews: it had little trouble with any of its collegiate competitors, defeating Washington by 12 lengths and going on to set an unsurpassed course record at the IRA.
Jim Lemmon took over the head coaching spot in 1960 (after several successful seasons coaching the freshmen) and in his seven years as head coach strung together an impressive streak, winning three IRA Championships and two Pacific Coast Championships. Lemmon's 1964 crew also earned bragging rights as one of California's finest, going through the regular season and the IRA without a loss. In fact, barring an unfortunate mishap at the 1964 Olympic Trials, it could have been California's fourth Olympic representative. Cal won its next IRA title in 1976, during Steve Gladstone's turn at the helm (1973-80). During his tenure, Cal also won the 1979 Pacific Coast Championship, as his finest crew at Cal dominated west coast rowing and earned a spot in the semi-finals of the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England (Cal's current frosh coach, Craig Amerkhanian was a stalwart in that crew).
Mike Livingston became head coach in 1981 and directed the Bears for three years. His 1982 crew was outstanding. It defeated every top crew in the country in scoring victories in the prestigious San Diego Crew Classic and Pacific Coast Championships while earning Cal another berth in the semi-finals of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley.
In 1984, Tim Hodges, Cal's stroke in 1974 and '75, stepped up from doing an outstanding job coaching the freshmen to lead the varsity. He guided the Bears to dual race victories over Washington in his final three seasons, 1985-1987. Hodges' 1986 crew was one of the country's best, as it defeated eventual national champion Wisconsin en route to California's victory in the inaugural Redwood Shores Classic and then easily won Cal's last varsity Pacific Coast Championship. In 1988, under the leadership of first year coach Bruce Beall, California won its fourth consecutive dual race over Washington.
Mark Zembsch, a 1982 graduate of Cal, moved up to lead the varsity in 1992 after two years of coaching California's freshmen squads, including the 1991 crew that is Cal's most recent Henley representative. In 1992, his first year, the Bears showed dramatic improvement, winning its traditional cup race over Washington in both the varsity and junior varsity events. After three years of rebuilding, in 1995, the Bears had their best season in six years, ending in a sixth place finish in the National Championships.
Today, the responsibility for bringing the Cal crew back to the top of collegiate rowing is once again on the shoulders Steve Gladstone, who returns to Cal for the 1996-97 season. As one of the most successful collegiate coaches in the country, the program is in good hands.