Rowing on the Rise

Written by: Zac Piesse

Old Virgilian (2011) and current staff member at St Virgil's College.

“Representing St Virgil’s is an opportunity and responsibility to continue our proud history in sport.”
 
Oliver Wilson-Haffenden (SVC 2006) is the Director of Rowing at St Virgil’s College and is a product of the Senior School at Austins Ferry. Rowing is a sport with a rich history at the College, but in the last couple of years, the sport has seen some sort of a renaissance. Rowing has always been a relatively well represented sport, but as of this year, there were over 55 rowers representing the College in the various meets throughout the summer months. This number has grown massively over the past few years with participation almost doubling since Oliver commenced in the role.  

Head of the River 2021
Photo credit: Sam Volker Photograhy


The increased participation of the sport at St Virgil’s has occurred through the talent identification processes that the College, alongside Head of Rowing, Oliver, have conducted to ensure that all students are given a chance to potentially row for the College. Other programmes such as 'Come and Try Days and Ergo (rowing machine) challenges in grade assemblies have given students a taste of the elation and delight that can arise from rowing. Whilst the early mornings can be somewhat of a chore for some students, rowers relish it. The routine of getting up early and attacking the day can provide a sense of accomplishment that only the natural high of exercising early in the morning provides.

Director of Rowing, Oliver Wilson-Haffenden
                                                     Photo credit, Sam Volker Photography

 
 “There are always the odd sessions where it's raining, cold and windy and you think “why are we doing this?”, but then the next day you are greeted by a perfect sunrise on a warm, calm morning, rowing with your mates - you can’t beat it – it’s unlike any other sport.  The discipline, skill, strength, and fitness the boys develop over time makes it well worth the effort.” 

Oliver Wilson-Haffenden

The discipline that the rowing team showed over the past few years started to show dividends in 2021.Whilst the effort of the boys in past seasons was never in question, the results often didn’t materialise. 

Although it is evident across all sports, this year’s results are the encapsulation of the St Virgil’s spirit and determination, with the Rowing Team winning the Head of the River for the first time in 30 years. Every race the College competed in had an impact on the final results. The U13 and U14 age brackets, clean swept their age categories, winning every race, whilst the U15 and U16 boys also competed very strongly. The team ended up winning by the tight margin of four points over Launceston Church Grammar, in what was an incredible win for rowing at the College. 
 
Max Sylvester, is a Year 7 student at Austins Ferry and is excited that he will be able tp continue his journey as a Virgilian from Year 7 through to Year 12. He will be in the third year level that will be able to experience the complete journey of formal secondary schooling at St Virgil’s College.

Max Sylvester
Photo credit: Sam Volker Photography

 “I think it’s a good experience and a great chance to show everyone what you’re made of and the school community what you can do. Especially when you are in Year 7, and we still have four to six more years; it’s a great honour.” 

Max Sylvester, Year 7

Max was very modest when asked about his results at Lake Barrington, but he managed to win every race he competed in, from singles, to doubles through to quads in the U13 age group. He has built a comradery that was forged on the river, training four to five times a week, with boys who he had never met prior to beginning Year 7. Max had never thought of competing in rowing prior to Year 7 but had taken part of the talent identification programme offered by the College.
 
Hugo Grubb was supposed to be one of the boys who was meant to lift the trophy at Barrington on Sunday, before he was humorously robbed by some of the younger St Virgil's rowers. He observed that the participation of rowing when he started at St Virgil’s was quite low, but the current rowing scene is thriving and will only continue to grow.

“There is a lot of participation in other schools, it used to be quite low in comparison at St Virgil's. I think Ollie has really done a lot to help us to get it off the ground. I just remember back in Year 7 there only used to be 7 or 8 of us, it was just us going up to Barrington, now there is over fifty  of us. We get the occasional complaint about having to be up so early, but for the most part the boys love it.”  

Hugo Grubb, Year 10

Hugo Grubb (far right) and his U16 team mates
Team SVC U16 Nationals


Rowing also provides quite the social aspect, travelling and spending as much time with each other outside of school time allows for a closer bond. Competing against all of the other schools at a neutral venue, with the rest of the competing athletes watching as they race their way down the river, can give a sense of accomplishment and pride that only a sport like rowing can foster.

One of St Virgils’ most notable alumni, Dr Scott Brennan, has visited the College during fortnightly assemblies’ numerous times, but I remember vividly one particular visit in 2009, fresh off his Olympic Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Scott spoke with such pride about rowing for St Virgil’s and the importance of being a Virgilian and how rowing for the College helped create his love for the sport. Recently, there have been a large number of old scholars also find that love, who have gone onto represent the state and nation. Alec Paterson, Andrew Monks, Angus Paynter, Jarrod Connolly and Tom Messer are all representing Tasmania this year at the Australian National Rowing Championship at Lake Barrington. 

Team SVC, 2021 Nationals Squad
Photo credit: Bruce Woods


The number of National and State representatives is most likely only going to continue to grow over the next two to three years with St Virgil’s moving into Year 11 and 12. Oliver  projects that the number of rowers will expand to well over 100 student rowers by 2023/24. The pinnacle of most rowing programmes, and often school rowing careers is in the senior Year 11 and 12 races.  As St Virgil’s expands into these grades, it gives further opportunity for these students to compete against other schoolboy eights. The senior event often holds the most prestige and stature, and for the first time in over thirty years St Virgil’s will be able to compete in this event. 


“We have grand visions for St Virgil's College rowing, and I believe with the right effort and planning, SVC rowing can once again become a very strong rowing school… Maybe by 2030 we might have a few more Olympic Medallists!” 


Team SVC, 2021 Head of the River
Photo credit: Linda Higginson, Solstice Photography