Rowing program aims to be accepting and competitve


Rachel Rudisill/ The Sunflower

Wichita State’s rowing team push off the doc to begin their practice on Sep. 13 at River Viesta. The 8+ shell was full of first year rowers, directed by Head Coach Calvin Cupp.

The rowing team shows up to practice ten minutes before 5:45 a.m. Head Coach Calvin Cupp host a team meeting and after the meeting, it’s time to go. Each member picks up their oars, and put their boats out on the Arkansas River on McLean and Douglas.

 Cupp applied for the job in the late 90’s after a mentor and former Shocker coach encouraged him too. 

Since then, Cupp has poured his entire coaching career into making sure the rowing program at Wichita State is a program of “access.”  

“For us at Wichita State I really see rowing as a sport of access because if there is somebody that really wants to come out for the team, we’ll find a spot for them if they want to compete,” Cupp said. 

The rowing program has a team set up in the boat house underneath the River Vista apartments that overlook the Arkansas River. The boathouse was put together between the City of Wichita, the original developer that got the bid to build the property and the rowing team. 

The boathouse holds about 32 boats, oars, lockers for each rower, showers, storage space, a study area and exercise equipment. On the other side of the boathouse is ‘Boats and Bikes.’

Boats and Bikes was started in 2019 after the rowing program moved into the original space in 2018. The purpose of Boats and Bikes is to generate profit for the rowing team’s equipment and fees for regattas which are boat races. Members of the community can rent paddle boats, kayaks, bikes and buy snacks and drinks from the shop. 

Shocker rowing’s responsibility is to activate the river for the community. Meaning, they are also in charge of hosting cocktail parties, barbecues and any other event someone from the community may want to pay for.

“It’s really a win-win-win because the community has programs and activities they didn’t have,” Cupp said. “We have good applied learning because all of our employees are students.” 

The boat deck in front of the boathouse was purchased with a grant the City of Wichita received for river development. Cupp worked with the architects to meet the needs of the rowing program and for recreational needs as well. 

Right now, the dock can launch eight seater boats at one time.  

With the space and equipment they currently have, Shocker rowing can compete and practice with multiple types of boats for different events. The boathouse stores eight seated, four seated, two seater and one seated competition boats.  

The larger boats are considered ‘sweep rowing’ because of the long oars needed. The one seater and two seater boats are considered sculling boats because two oars are needed in each hand. 

Sophomore Bailey Wise said the two seater boats are her favorite to compete in. Last year, her and a former Shocker rower won a bronze medal at the American Collegiate Rowing Association nationals in the doubles. 

Wise has no prior experience with rowing before joining the team as a freshman. She grew up playing soccer and played at Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita. 

“Someone had mentioned it (joining the team) so I threw my name into the interest meeting and then I got a text from ‘coach’ and he was like hey do you want to meet at the boathouse,” Wise said. “I love the environment and so I enjoy it.”  

Cupp said the recruiting process for the rowing program is similar to other sports but also is unique as well. Since the program does not practice on campus besides the winter in the Heskett Center, they host tabling events and efforts to promote interest in the team. 

Cupp also emails junior college coaches, youth rowing clubs, and athletes from high schools to see if they have an interest in rowing. Sometimes, high school athletes from other sports will reach out to him. In that case, Cupp will go watch them in their sports, whether that’s swimming, softball or any other sport to make a connection to them. 

“As a concept one of our challenges is connecting the student population with what we do here,” Cupp said.  “They don’t see it as something they could do and what we try to do is make sure people understand we’ll teach them how to row but what they have to have is the desire to want to learn and then want to be a part of a competitive program.” 

Cupp said anyone is welcome to join the rowing team even if they are not a recruited member. No prior experience is required. Right now, there are about 37 rowers on the roster. 

There is a novice division and varsity division at each regatta. Novice members are those who are in their first year of rowing. Varsity members are rowers that have been on the team for at least a year with the expectation that they will be more advanced. 

Freshman rower Austin Weston, who also played soccer growing up, has prior experience rowing. Weston was a part of the Kansas City Rowing Club from 2019 to the time he joined the team. 

“I just fell in love with rowing on the water,” Weston said. “I mean it’s very surreal.” 

Cupp said he can take about 80 people total to a national meet. 

“They might not be at the top boat but there’s a boat for them and because of all the categories we have and all the opportunities we have then everyone gets a chance to race.” Cupp said. 

The Shockers first regatta is on Oct. 1-2 at the Head of the Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.