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Bishop Timon-St. Jude rowing hits milestone

Mark Cassidy, the coach of the Bishop Timon-St. Jude rowing team, still remembers the 1975 fire at the West Side Rowing Club that essentially wiped out the program for 36 years.

“It was the weekend of the Henley Regatta in St. Catharines, so some of the boats were up there,” the 1977 Timon graduate said. “But it was still a million-dollar fire. Timon had never owned its own boats. It used boats from the West Side Rowing Club. It paid dues. It didn’t have the money for boats, because they were very expensive.”

In a sense, the program is still rebounding from that fire. But the recovery process, which began in earnest when the program was resumed under Cassidy’s coaching in 2011, will take another good-sized step forward on Saturday.

The team will christen its first single scull in a ceremony at the soon-to-be-opened Tewksbury Lodge at 249 Ohio St. in Buffalo. The facility is across the Buffalo River from RiverWorks.

The boat will be named for Tom Graham, Timon Class of 1959, who helped bring the program back in 2011 and has done great work in fundraising for the program. Cassidy remembers watching Graham in action one time.

“We were on a plane heading to ‘The Head of the Charles’ in Boston,” Cassidy said. “Tom was on the plane and told the story to a woman who was in charge of charitable donations for Ingram Micro. Before the plane landed, she was in tears, and had pledged $5,000 toward a new boat. ... He’s an old-time guy, and people just love to listen to his stories.”

It’s nice to have someone like Graham connected to the program, because fundraising for a rowing program isn’t easy. Many people have some sort of connection to a high school’s football or basketball program, but rowing doesn’t have nearly as large a constituency as the other sports. In the case of Timon, the rebuilding of the program has been slow and steady.

“We run a financially independent program,” Cassidy said. “The school can’t afford to donate money. Timon let us use the name, and we said we’d get the boats.”

When the Tigers first returned to the water in 2011, they borrowed boats from Canisius High School in order to compete. They have bought a few vessels, mostly through the help of local foundations, in the past five years.

“For the boys, it’s fantastic,” Cassidy said. “They are on a nice boat instead of an old one. When they go up against big private schools, they are going into the competition with state of the art equipment. They can compete.”

The single shell is a particularly welcome addition to Timon’s “fleet.” It’s easier for Cassidy to find one good rower for an event than eight.

“Caelan Schneck will be competing in the state championships in singles,” Cassidy said. “He’s a sophomore, and our best rower. These boats are very expensive – about $10,000.

“When you only have 15 guys on the team, it’s difficult to be competitive. The smaller you go, such as doubles and singles, the better your chances.”