2006 marks the third year that Norm Graf is the director of our sculling program at Craftsbury. Last fall, Norm celebrated his 80th birthday. He has had a long devotion to our sport and is an inspiration to us all. Associate director, Marlene Royle, took a moment to catch up with Norm this winter.
How did you get started in rowing? When did you start sculling?
When I was in grade school I played YMCA football in the fall, basketball in the winter and school track in the spring. I ran long distance and didn't like it much. When I went to Culver I played football in the fall, basketball the winter and since they offered rowing, I took that up in the spring. That was the spring of 1941. I had a taste of rowing in the summer of 1940 at Culver Summer School. I did not start sculling until 1974 or 5.
What was your most memorable moment as an athlete, the funniest moment?
There have been a number of memorable moments in all of my athletic and coaching experiences. The one in rowing and in coaching was winning the Ladies Plate with my Trinity crew of 1976 has to top the list. The undefeated Culver crew of 1943 is right up there for in the season we beat Wisconsin ’s Freshman boat by two lengths over 1 mile. The funniest moments were when the Wesleyan coxswain and I would get laughing jag ons at the same time during the trip to Henley in 1998- I think it was.
You have coached numerous boats over the course of your career, was there a period of time or a particular crew that stands out as special to you and why?
The 1976 heavy weight crew at Trinity stands out on top of the list of crews because they were athletic, dedicated, coachable and held an unbeatable frame of mind, although they lost to Coast Guard at the Dad Vail Regatta that year. The whole period at Trinity with the men and then the women later was enjoyable. I think my winning % was some where around 86%. Who isn't having fun at that rate?
Your influence as a coach has inspired several of your athletes to become coaches. Who are some of the coaches that rowed for you in college that are currently coaching?
Several years ago several Trinity people got together at figured out that about 45 Trinity and Wesleyan rowers went on and coached rowing. I think about 16 are active or just retired including Curtis Jordan, Andy Anderson, Kevin MacDermott, Laura Darby at Westminster, Phil Carney, who considers himself one of mine, as does Gary Caldwell at Tufts. I think Phil knows most of the rest of them. At one time we had 5 Trinity coaches at Buckingham, Brown and Nichols at the same time.
If you had to name two key qualities that make a good crew great what would they be?
Just as in any sport, the will, the determination, the subjugation of pain to win heads my list. I've seen crews in terrible equipment win as well as those with terrible rowing style.
Rowing is growing at a rapid rate. What excites you the most about this? What concerns you the most?
The more people that row the more healthy people we'll have. The more people we have rowing the greater understanding of the needs of the rowing community such as financial support for all areas of rowing. The growth of women's rowing is very exciting to see. The greatest concern I have is the questionable quality of coaching. There are just not enough good coaches to meet the demand, which is understandable considering the rapid growth of the sport. This isn't to say those coaching by the seat of their pants won't grow into great coaches. I just think we have a problem right now. The second problem is the restricted number of clubs and limits that are dictated by the conditions that clubs find themselves in. There are not enough spaces to put boats as an example.
As the director of Craftsbury's sculling program, what aspect of the program do you enjoy the most?
I think as people evaluate my enthusiasm they can tell I enjoy the coaching. I'm one of these strange characters that also enjoys organizational and management responsibilities as well.