SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Santa Clara University men's crew and women's rowing programs celebrated the tradition of Black Velvet Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011, which marks the beginning of the spring rowing season.
Santa Clara University head women's rowing coach John Wojtkiewicz explains: "The event was initiated by East Coast rowing teams, who spent their winters training indoors while the lake or river they trained on was frozen over. The term 'black velvet' refers to the appearance of the water in early spring (usually dark and flat) when the ice finally breaks and crews can start venturing back out onto the water. The tradition celebrates a return to the water, an end of the somewhat dreary winter-indoor training, and the beginning of the racing season."
The Broncos adopted this tradition in the earliest years of the program (now 46 years of men's crew), and it has been going strong ever since. While both teams remain on the water year-round and the doldrums of winter-indoor training are minimal, Wojtkiewicz and head men's crew coach Wieslaw Kujda believe it is an important tradition, recognizing the six months of training the athletes have put in to prep for the racing season.
This year Santa Clara's event was in two parts. The first, in the afternoon, was a blessing of the racing fleet by University President Michael Engh, S.J. Before a gathering of alumni, parents, friends and administrators, Father Engh read two brief quotes from John Wooden and Pope John Paul II. He then blessed the student-athletes, coaches and boats for a safe and successful racing season.
The second event was a banquet in the evening. Almost 200 people gathered to sit and eat while each coach gave their season outlook and seniors offered anecdotal reflections on their last four years.
"This was my first Black Velvet at SCU and the whole weekend, from Father Engh's blessing of the boats to the banquet was spectacular," said Wojtkiewicz, who is in his first year coaching on the Mission Campus. "I met so many alums and parents who truly love and support this program. What a great way to start the racing season!"