A History Of Orchard Lake Crew
By Coach Jack ‘Laddie’ LeBlanc and Richard Philipiak
Detroit area boat/rowing clubs have been organized for well over 100 years on the Detroit River. In the early days, they custom crafted their equipment from specialized designs. As rum running declined, but legitimate racing challenges continued, a specialized boat builder began producing racing shells in Seattle, Washington, to meet the increasing demand within the world of rowing. His name was George Pocock and is synonymous with rowing shells and equipment. In 1954, Pocock built a racing shell for the University of Washington crew to train in for the Olympics of 1956 in Melbourne, Australia. It was an awesome racing shell and team!
Also in the 1950’s at the Detroit Boat Club, a legendary coach by the name of Judson Ross was developing crews that were feared across the land. In 1960, Judson acquired the University of Washington shell used in the ’56 Olympics in order to start a program with Wayne State University and started the Detroit Boat Club. He managed the program out of the old Detroit Beach and Bathing Club on Belle Isle and offered scholarships to many local athletes. When the bathhouse was demolished, he moved the program to the Ecorse Rowing Club. Judson had many friends among the rowing clubs along the river and one of his favorites was Jack “Laddie” LeBlanc. Judson moved the University of Washington’s “Pocock 8” down to Ecorse and also held regattas on Wolverine and Union Lakes with his partner “Laddie” until his program at Wayne State lost support.
Undaunted, Judson hauled his equipment up to Orchard Lake in 1976 and offered to coach a prep program for St. Mary’s. The Washington Pocock racing shell trained in for the 1956 Olympics had found yet another home at OLSM. For the next three years, Judson coached the crews, but with failing health, he finally turned to Jack with a silver-tongued plea to take over the program and passed across his earthly finish line to his Lord a few years later. In 1979, Laddie took over in earnest and continued with the old equipment. He developed hundreds of memories for hundreds of OLSM crewmen across the gunwales of the old Pocock 8. He certainly added his best to the legacy he was entrusted with by Judson. The shell was retired from active duty in 1988 as the program grew at St. Mary’s and new funding and boosters support offered new and more modern equipment for the crew. The shell retired first, and then Jack retired as Head Coach in 1996. Neither being ready to be totally out of the picture, Jack assisted with coaching while the seats of the old Pocock 8 were reincarnated and converted into coffee tables – a bona fide piece of local rowing history.
The Legacy Continues
St. Mary’s Rowing Booster Club was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1989. Its purpose is to provide for maximum involvement of the parents and friends of the St. Mary’s rowing program, to develop fund raising activities and bring about better recognition of the St. Mary’s Prep rowing program within the school and the surrounding communities. The rowing program has continued to grow and gain increasing prominence and recognition. In 1996, Kevin Van Houten took over as Head Coach and Jack LeBlanc’s legacy of producing outstanding crews has continued. In recent years, St. Mary’s has achieved many accomplishments. OLSM’s crew may have had its finest year; spring of 1998. Not only did the team win the overall team Midwest Championship, the Senior 8 crew went undefeated. They won the prestigious Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, the Canadian Schoolboy Championships, the US National Championships and gained international recognition by taking second at the Henley Royal Regatta at Henley-on-Thames, England. In 1999, Kevin Van Houten handed the reigns of head coach over to Coach Mike German. Throughout Coach German’s tenure, the crew continued to be a force every time they hit the water. He led the team to two Midwest Championships, seven Hebda Cup Championships and seven Wyandotte Regatta Championships; making him the most successful crew coach in St. Mary’s history.
Fall of 2006, brings a change of the guard. Coach John Ray accepted the challenge to lead the Eaglets in their quest to regain the Hebda and Wy-Hi championships. Coach Ray’s credentials are second to none. He began his rowing career in high school at Central Florida, and has rowed for Johns Hopkins University, the Wilmington Rowing Club in Delaware and at the Lookout Rowing Club in Chattanooga, Tennessee. John Ray has coached at Duke University, Atlanta Rowing Club, Western Reserve Rowing Association, the Groton School in Massachusetts, and University of the South before coming to St. Mary’s in 1997. He holds a Level I Coaching Certification and taught Chemistry and German at the Prep. 2009 proved to be Coach Ray’s last year at the Prep as his family moved to Florida; where he continues to coach.
Fall of 2009 brought Coach Michael Pricer back to the Prep and St, Mary’s rowing. Coach Pricer was an alumni of St. Mary’s Preparatory and rowed for 4-years. He went on to row for Temple University. Michael Pricer would coach the Prep Crew for 2-years before handing the reigns to Coach Czarnecki in the Spring of 2012.
Coach Chris Czarnecki is a Prep. legacy in his own right. Chris learned to row with Grand Valley State and joined the Prep in 2004 as an English teacher. Chris has rowed for the Wyandotte Boat Club and Grand Valley State. Medaling at the Dad Vail Regatta and Canadian Henley Regatta and rowing in the Royal Henley Regatta places Coach Czarnecki in an elite group. Coach Czarnecki has coaching experience at the collegiate level and with St. Mary’s Crew as the Novice and Varsity coach. During his time with St. Mary’s, Chris has been part of and led many championship teams. The Crew legacy lives on and is in good hands.
As we compete in the 21st century, we hope to pass on the history, the destiny and the legacy that Judson Ross started in 1976 and Coach Czarnecki continues today.
The following is not all inclusive. Please visit our website for an updated list.
Championship Team Titles
Midwest Scholastic Rowing Championships ~ 1994 through 1999, 2001
State of Michigan All Around Champion in 2010, inaugural year
State of Michigan Men’s Champion ~ 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014
Hebda Cup Championships ~ 1994 through 2012
Wyandotte Regatta Champions ~ 1994 through 2010
Lindamood Cup ~ 2002
Stotesbury Cup ~ 1998
U.S. Nationals ~ 1998
Canadian Schoolboys ~ 1998
Championship Team Significant Finishes
Midwest Scholastic Rowing Championships; OLSM boats have placed in the top 3 every year
Lindamood Cup ~ 2nd 2004
SRAA Championship ~ 2nd 2009, JV; this year OLSM placed finalists in the Lightweight, JV and Varsity 4+ categories.
SRAA Championship ~ 1st 2018 JV 8+
Henley Royal Regatta 1998, Henley-on-Thames, England ~ 2nd in the World
Dave Simon, 2000