By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Sports Editor | 217-221-3366
QUINCY — Their names don’t resonate today the way Douglas, Kemner and Weibring do when talking about Quincy’s sports past, but five men brought Quincy international acclaim long before basketball was king, Olympic dreams were realized and professional success was achieved.
Chet Holtman, George Meyer, Ray Bennett, Roy Gibbs and George Hussong rowed their way around the globe.
Those five men traveled to Liege, Belgium, in 1930 to represent the United States and Quincy’s South Side
Boat Club in the four-oared competition of the International Regatta. They lost by one-fifth of a second to Italy in the semifinals, but their performance was the pinnacle for a club that for four decades or more was considered one of the nation’s best at rowing.
“It was something that created a whole lot of pride in Quincy,” said Ray Thomas, a Quincy native living in Portland, Ore., who organizes the Quincy 5-miler hand-powered boat race and has researched and written about Quincy’s rowing past. “The boat clubs in Quincy were all rowing clubs. If you go to Philadelphia and Boston and other places out east, you’ll see the same thing. It was also a social thing, but the rowing was taken very seriously.”
So serious, in fact, crowds were estimated to be in the thousands when South Side Boat Club held regattas, including the Southwestern Rowing Association’s signature regatta that was first held in the Quincy Bay in 1896.
“I guess the closest thing to compare it to is the crowds they get for high school basketball now,” Thomas said. “That’s the level it was.”
The trophies and plaques that adorn South Side Boat Club’s main hall are a testament to how successful those rowing teams were.
South Side Boat Club achieved its first significant honor in 1904 when the four-oared crew won the intermediate championship in the National Rowing Regatta at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. By the 1920s, the South Side Boat Club senior crews were traveling nationwide to compete, including winning the eight-oared national championship in 1928 at the regatta in Philadelphia.
The four-oared crew won the 1929 national championship at Springfield, Mass., and earned the right to represent the United States in Belgium.
Although the international appearance may have been the pinnacle for the South Side rowers, trophies and championships followed. From 1927 to 1940, South Side won the Central States Amateur Rowing Association points trophy all but one year.
“It was a full-fledged sport,” said Thomas, who still competes himself at age 63. “It had the respect of everyone.”
Rowing activities were suspended during World War II, and interest in the sport simmered after the war. The annual regattas were no longer held after 1950 as Quincyans turned their attention to other sports.