Crew Classic Christenings

The 2013 Crew Classic: A Pre-Race Dinner … and Four Shells Christened At Once!

In anticipation of the Crew Classic’s two days of racing, the alumni came up with the idea of having a coat and tie dinner for the team the night before the event. Such dinners are standard fare in the Ivy League and in programs such as Cal and Stanford, but the Aztecs have never had such a get-together. Attended by the entire team and about twenty alums, the event was meant to be low key and so it was.

The arrangements for the affair were put together by alum Jeff Cyr, the decorations were done by undergraduate Ryan Williams (with the help of the coxswains), and the tab was generously picked up by Scott Petry. Speechifying was kept to a minimum – something that was extremely difficult for Coach Perez in particular – and the theme of the night was to relax, have some good food, and just be together … before the stress and tension of racing arrived. The lone “message” for the team was that if they “came back empty … leaving it all out on the water,” everyone would be extremely proud of them – as they could be of themselves!

The next day, Saturday, April the 6th, was the first day of the San Diego Crew Classic (now a two day long event). After the day’s racing, the extended Aztec family got together at the Aztec’s camp and christened four shells at one time in a moving ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of many an alum. Almost 90 parents and alums showed up for the event, and it was a festive atmosphere to begin with. But it turned in a serious direction when the men who donated each shell made their remarks … and, in turn, the honorees (all of whom were in attendance) made their remarks.+


Several of the christenings were not surprises for the honorees. The first shell christened was the “Emilia William” – named after the two children of alum Chris Carlson. The boat was not a brand new shell, but nevertheless came with an interesting and important story that is a part of recent Aztec history. At one point a few years back, the team had purchased the shell on a payment plan. Hard times were about to force the team to default on the loan, and the Associated Students were seriously considering closing down the program if this was done … due to incurring this unwelcomed debt. Even though he had done so much for the program already, Chris Carlson came to the rescue of the team. He stepped in and immediately upon hearing of the problem paid off the balance of what was owed on the shell. The shell had then been utilized for a decade as “The No Name Boat.” Give this circumstance, members of the H. Del Beekley Rowing Foundation felt that the shell should be named by Chris, in whatever way he saw fit.

So Chris decided to name it after his two little children (shown in the photo) = Emilia Carlson and William Carlson. And so it was. In giving his introductory speech about Chris, Coach Perez noted that Chris had built and donated a trailer to the program in the 1990s, and then completely refurbished the trailer at his own expense this year. He is truly one of those Aztecs that give and keep on giving!


The other christening that was not a surprise was the acceptance into the Aztec fleet of “The Eric Barge.” Josh Gruenberg, a lightweight oarsman from the early ’80s, purchased the shell for the lightweights of today early on in the season. He gave an impassioned speech about his best friend in the world, Eric Barge – after whom he had decided to name the shell. Josh noted that Eric was a died-in-the-wool competitor, who pulled his heart out every day. He recalled that if it was a piece on the water, a run up the stadium stairs, or an ergometer piece, Eric always wanted to race … and always wanted to win. He gave Eric quite a bit of credit for the success of the Aztecs in those years, as his kind of constant competition was infectious and led everyone to compete at their best every day.

Eric was a member of the 1981 Lightweight Freshman 8 that went to Philadelphia and won the National Championship at the Dad Vail regatta, and ended up making Aztec history year in and year out through this four years of rowing as a lightweight in our fastest crews ever. Eric also coached for the Aztecs, and did a phenomenal job at it – placing both Freshman 8s and Novice 8s higher than they had ever been placed before at the Crew Classic. Eric married our coxswain Maris Giangrasso – a member of the U.S.A. Lightweight Women’s 8 that once set a world record at the Canadian Henley – making them the only pair of Aztecs ever to wed (to our knowledge).

In his remarks, Eric returned the compliment to Josh, telling the crowd of the drive and commitment of his great friend. Both Josh and Eric – and they are not embarrassed to acknowledge it – were teary-eyed after they had talked to and about each other in front of the appreciative crowd.

Two of the boats to be christened were purchased by Scott Petry, who not only brought the team two 8s this season, but also purchased 5 sets of Croker oars, and hosted the night-before-the-Crew-Classic coat and tie dinner for the team. In addition to that, Scott – who rowed in the United States Lightweight 8 at the World Championships in 1987 in Copenhagen – has offered to serve on the Board of Directors of the H. Del Beekley Rowing Foundation. Scott decided to keep the names of them a surprise until the very moment of their christening.


The first shell he named after John Denker, who had been Scott’s Freshman Coach when Scott began rowing. John, who originally began rowing at Loyola-Marymount and then transferred to SDSU,  was a member of the Aztec crews of the early ’80s. After his rowing eligibility was up, John volunteered a year of his life to coach the Freshman crew. And that crew was not only successful during the novice year, but it included in it many of the Aztecs who would move on to write history at both the Heavyweight and Lightweight levels in the mid ’80s.

Keeping the secret that the shell would be named in John’s honor was no mean feat. Marisa Giangrasso-Barge had to spend quite some time on the phone with John’s wife Lynn to set things up. That’s because John and Lynn live half of the way around the world – in Saudi Arabia – and he had to be “manipulated” into coming to the Crew Classic after a long bought of traveling around the U.S. At one point John decided not to make the trip, and Lynn and Marisa “conspired” to get him to change his mind. John was truly moved by the event, and gave an impassioned speech about what Aztec crew had meant to him.


Being the donor of one of the new shells this year, Josh Gruenberg was prepared for the ceremony by having some words to share about Eric of course. What he was not prepared for was the final surprise of the evening. For Scott Petry had decided to name the other shell that he purchased after Josh. In fact, Scott had related to Josh that the shell was to be named as a surprise to someone else, and was – thus – caught completely unawares when Scott announced his choice.

Scott noted Josh’s relentless support for the team over the course of many years, and also shared with the crowd the fact that together they had ventured across the country to defeat Yale in 1985 … and then, in addition, traveled all of the way to England to participate in the Royal Henley Regatta, representing the Aztecs. Josh has moved over into the world of competitive cycling, and is a champion – as a master cyclist – in that arena too!

Josh returned the kind words in the direction of both Scott and Eric, and the crowd of over 100 (the entire team was also in attendance of course) ended the evening with a resounding “Aztecs on three … One, Two Three … AZTECS!”


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