Volunteer view of Head of the Charles
Behind the scenes at any rowing regatta there is a whole legion of volunteers helping to make the event happen. The Head of the Charles annual regatta in Boston, United States is no exception.
Nearly 9000 athletes compete and up to 200,000 spectators watch, so this huge happening needs more than 1400 volunteers.
The job is big enough that there are 30 committees to run the volunteers. It is so big that a dedicated section on the Head of the Charles website is solely for volunteers.
One of these volunteers is Kirk Bargerhuff. Bargerhuff never waivers from his enthusiasm in the Head of the Charles and this year was no exception. Bargerhuff spoke to World Rowing about his experience and how the regatta operates.
World Rowing: How many years have you been helping out?
Kirk Bargerhuff: Since 2004. I spent seven years on the race committee as a co-chair serving with an amazing six member committee overseeing the Finish Area Launch Site (FALS), a 0.5 mile stretch of land that serves as the essential main launching and landing sites for about 1,200 boats and up to about 5,000 athletes. If you like getting into the pulse of the Head of the Charles Regatta during race weekend, this is one of the places to be - Full of action and, on occasion, good drama. I enjoyed the logistical issues and having the ability to coordinate the overall operations of the area, and working with the 170+ great volunteers to get the boats and crews on and off the water safely and timely.
WR: What was your role this year?
KB: After a year off, this year I made a switch to the umpire corps. I wanted to take on a new role and the umpires always seemed very well organised and prepared for the tasks to ensure a safe and fair regatta. The entire course is watched, as is every boat as they race upstream towards the finish line. I’m sure there are some rowers and coxswains who may wonder if that is true, but it is.
WR: How is it decided what job you will do?
KB: Good question. There are volumes of needs and roles to fill and it seems each need has a committee that spends months and hours organising and preparing. They look at scenarios and gaps from every angle. The race committee is guided by the executive director and board of directors. I was brought in to fill a specific area, while other individuals pick a job or a committee that appeals to them and volunteer to serve there.
Anyone can volunteer; you just need to go to the HOCR website and signup for any one of the 20+ committees. If there is space on a committee and the race committee members then see your dedication and great work, it leads to other opportunities.
WR: What do you think makes this event special for rowers?
KB: Atmosphere. About 20 years ago on a cool, sunny day at Magazine Beach ( when the boats still launched there), I remember talking to an athlete, Leanne Eberly, whom I had meet at the Eagle Creek Park race course in Indianapolis the previous year, and with a big smile on her face she said something that always stuck with me. She said, “Autumn in New England. It’s just beautiful isn’t it?” There is something about the changing colors of the leaves and the cool crisp autumn air of New England that draws a lot of people to the banks of the Charles River.
There is the inevitable excitement of the Youth boats as the experience is something that is larger than life; and the Head of the Charles Regatta is an event that provides a chance to rekindle relationships with teammates and a day or two to relax and enjoy life. It is a well run regatta. The competition is typically serious, but also lighthearted. There is always a lot of intensity and an equal amount of laughing and camaraderie.
Where can you go in the US and walk up and talk to current and former Olympians that may have rowed and medaled 40 or 4 years ago? Each year so many college teams as well as former national and Olympic team gather for alumni rows. The 1980 US Olympic men’s eight returns from wherever they live each year to row together. So does the ’84 team. I just read a story about the ’72 team who competed in their 40th race (they said this was the final time). For example, running around the regatta you can run into Bill Becklean, the gold medal coxswain from the 1956 Olympics. But it is more than just current and national team athletes that come and makes it special. It’s the college teams and the reunions that are also special.
WR: Was there any race(s) that seemed to create more interest than others?
KB: You know, each race has its own level of excitement that draws a crowd and the order of events somehow encourages the excitement to be sustained through the regatta. The youth eights, men and women, for example each had 85 entries each this year. Yes, a total of 170 boats entered in those 2 races alone. That is over 1500 competing athletes, and excited parents, and that creates a lot of excitement along the race course.
The championship fours and eights are always drawing a crowd because of the sheer speed and the national and international Olympians racing; and the challenge of the collegiate crews to see if they can do better than the best. The Great Eights have been a real draw too. The Championship singles, it’s a gutsy race that commands attention. It seems everyone wants to know who is the winner is of those events.
WR: Any anecdotes or funny things you overheard from spectators or athletes?
KB: Not too many. Umpiring keeps your attention on the racing. What is interesting is that people remember the racing year by year. I heard so many ‘do you remember when’ stories ranging from the clashing of oars, to singles flipping, and this year I heard many stories about the ‘year is snowed’.
WR: Will do you it next year?
KB: Yes, of course, I plan too. There is always that challenge to try to do a better job and improve for the next year.