In spring of 2002, Muhammad Ahmad and Keith Jeronimus, along with the help of a few others, submitted a proposal toThe College of New Jersey to form the TCNJ Club Crew team. After holding several interest session meetings, the team was granted its club status in the Spring of 2003 and the Student Finance Board funded the purchase of the team’s first boat, a women's 8 Vespoli DM Performer from Princeton, and four Concept 2 rowing machines.
By fall of 2003, approximately 100 students were interested in learning to row. Club, President Kathryn Uziza, Vice President Brian Burkert, Treasure Keith Jeronimus, and Coach Muhammad Ahmad began working to find a more permanent coach and water time. They pursued Gary Kilpatrick, a former Princeton coach, who put on two erg clinics for the team. They also contacted the Finn Caspersen Rowing Center about rowing on Mercer Lake. In the mean time, Joshua Bank and Chris Mecoli were made Captains of the Men’s team and Stephanie Routson of the Women's team to organize and run practices. Running and Erging practices were held several times a week over the next semester to beginconditioning the team, but unfortunately, no coach or water time could be found.
As spring 2004 rolled around, club numbers began dropping quickly because the team had not actually gotten on the water. A dedicated group of members continued to train on land with the hopes of getting onto the water soon, but unfortunately, it would not happen that semester. Graduating seniors who trained for an entire year never actually got to row. Towards the end of the Semester, Captains Chris Mecoli and Joshua Bank took over the team as President and Vice President, as Kathryn was focusing on attending med school, and Brian joined a fraternity. Having made no further progress on a coach or water time, the team began contacting the local rowing community - Lawrenceville, Hamilton, and Mercer prep schools - to see if anyone was willing to help out with coaching and boat storage. The shell, along with eight oars, was on blocks in the back of the boathouse.
Desperate, and needing a new approach, a help wanted ad was posted on Row2k.com. By that fall, the team had two promising responses. A former Rutgers coach named Brett responded with interest in helping out in a limited capacity. Additionally, Heather Weisel, now Cullen, a former National Team coach, volunteered to coach the team.
As head coach, Heather was extremely demanding, not only on the water (eventually), but off the water as she pushed the team to fundraise even harder than they already were. Money was raised through yearly raffles, t-shirt sales, work at Six Flags, and Sovereign Bank Arena during the year.
Conversations continued with the director of the Finn Caspersen Rowing Center to hopefully obtain water time for the team. With all the prep schools and National Team getting the preferred rowing times, the director offered the 5:00-6:45 AM slot to TCNJ. It took a few additional weeks to negotiate a price of $3 a rower per practice to use the docks and store the team’s only boat in a field behind the boathouse.
But before the team could get on the water, they needed a coaching launch and motor. Balancing drills right next to the docks was all the team was capable of without a launch.
Then one day, through a gracious donation, a launch was given to the team. In response to the donation, the team quickly found a used motor named “Sea King.” The team worked on the motor all into the evening trying to get it running and to get the oil/gas mixture correct. Pulling and tugging on the engine to start, turning it on and off several times to kick the rust out, they crossed their fingers that it would work smoothly the next morning. But of course, as the next morning began, the motor refused to start. Frustrated, and several round trips back and fourth to have the motor tuned, it finally began running – at least a little better than it was. One day in late October, Early November was the first official practice. Unfortunately, it was the last day teams were allowed on the water due to the cold weather. But now there was something to look forward to in the spring!
Heather explained to the team that with more people than there were seats to row, they simply had to get another shell. Therefore, along with a proposal to help pay for water time, a proposal for buying a second boat was also submitted to the Student Finance Board. The team provided three different boat options, all with a plan of how the club and SFB could work together to pay for these. The Finance Board was shown what TCNJ Crew had accomplished through hard fund raising as well as the planned fundraisers with estimated income in the near future. The team had over 50% covered on their own and the rest they were asking assistance with. Crew was granted approximately $10,000 towards water time, races, and the boat, the Wintech Club 8 Racer Men's 8-man shell, purchased Summer 05, which was more than expected. Additionally a donation letter was sent to all family & friends asking for help to purchase a new boat.
By summer of 2005, the team had made tremendous strides in becoming a real, competitive program under Heather and Brett. To further that competitive drive and to get more water time, a few members began rowing on their own time with Carnage Lake Rowing Association – a competitive masters group rowing out of Princeton’s boathouse. That’s where the team first met Tess, a former Rutger’s coxswain who wanted to continue her rowing career. She would later become the coach for the 06-07 season. It was also during the summer that Heather informed the team her husband had been transferred and she would no longer able to coach TCNJ. She helped us interview Coach Brian McDonald who responded to an ad that was placed on row2k. He was a former college coxswain who wanted to get into coaching. He seemed like he would be a suitable replacement to coach the team.
Now having two boats, the Men's and Women's varsity and novice eights alternated days practicing on the water. The team’s first official Fall race was the Head of the Housatonic in Connecticut. Although TCNJ ultimately finished second to last, they had been entered as varsity instead of novice. They were competitive in the varsity races and if they had been entered as a novice team (which we were), they would have finished in the top 5 out of approximately 20 boats.
Four full years after the rowing program at The College of New Jersey began, the team was finally having its first full racing season! Four years of hard work and $35,000 of fundraised blood, sweat, and tears, the team had a season worth looking forward to. An early spring training session in Hollywood, FL was arranged that semester. Over spring break, the team trained for the entire week doing three-a-day workout sessions, two-a-day water sessions, and land training every day with Coach Brian. All that hard work paid off as the team entered into four regattas that spring: the Knecht Cup, Murphy’s Cup, Occoquan Sprints, and the Dad Vail Regatta.
The team has now grown its fleet to four boats and looks to be purchasing more in the very near future. Still grounded on the dedication and hard work of fundraising, the team spends every spare weekend working to earn money that will ultimately lead to more equipment and more races.