News from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla.

Crew continues competition tradition

April 6, 2017

Junior Luis Cuevas prepares the crowd for the sacrifice while freshman Vivek Kondapavuluru beats on a water cooler.

The loud banging of water jug drums ring through the air. The Hillsborough River is flooded with a mixture of protein powder, fish and pudding. Prayers are being made to the river gods for good luck in the coming weeks. This can only mean one thing: a new season of crew has begun.

Before competition begins in the fall and spring seasons, the crew team seeks luck in a way that senior Rachel Nieland describes as “very unique.” The team has special sacrifices where they buy foods high in protein and throw them into the river while praying to the elusive river gods.

Origin Story

This tradition is a recent custom for the crew team. Three years ago there was a group of seniors that decided they wanted to start performing the sacrifices. They enticed the freshman to join and it became an event for the whole team to participate in.

“The coaches were always encouraging us to create some kind of a legacy to leave behind so that the team grows culturally,” senior Luke Jeske said.

The first sacrifice was late October 2014. It was Columbian river trout, protein powder and pudding. The fish was because crew is a water sport. The protein powder was because it’s an intense sport that requires strength and energy. Then “the pudding was just kind of thrown in there for no real reason,” Jeske said.

Since then the sacrificial foods thrown in the river have grown exponentially. While they willingly toss in bags of rice and protein powder, team
members have accidentally thrown in watches, sunglasses and even a Fitbit.

“We just go crazy with it. One year, our sacrifice was conducted with a frozen burrito,” junior Rafael Carrion said.

The aforementioned river gods play a significant role in the ritual. “Because we were going for a tribal feel we just kind of dubbed that the river was a god and that’s [why] we were sacrificing, for the river gods to give us good water to row in,” Jeske said.

Rescuing the ritual

Besides being a unique activity, Carrion notes the event’s overall importance to the team. “It’s like a morale booster,” he said. “It’s a little team bonding thing we do to prepare ourselves for the season. Something to look forward to.”

In recent years, the ritual has been placed in jeopardy. “It’s been almost deteriorating, because the team as a whole has gotten smaller,” Jeske said. “We had to change locations, but we do enjoy that tradition so we’re trying to keep it alive as best we can.”

Lovin’ it

The crew team also has another tradition that is equally unique. Each member takes a placement test where they go on the rowing machine and row as fast as they can. Those hoping for a good score on their personal record (PR) placement tests eat at McDonald’s, which team members affectionately call McDank’s, prior to rowing.

They believe that fueling up with McDonald’s will help them set a new record. “We all go and we just go crazy at McDank’s. And then the next day, for those who do PR, they get to go to McDank’s again,” Carrion said.

Whether for morale or just sheer entertainment, the crew traditions have become a part of the team’s reputation and a tenet of each new season.

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