Haxton Regatta means new beginning for Blake, team

By David Streicher, ’13

It is a bright, cold Saturday morning at Griggs Resevoir, far down the Scioto river. A line of rowers tensely wait in their boat at the starting line, backs straight, swung over, mentally steeling themselves for the first stroke. The bright sun now left no hints of the thick early-morning fog that delayed this race for two hours.

The announcer stands at attention, gazing over the crowd, then raises his flag. “Attention!” the call rings out… “ROW!”

In an instant, the tension explodes, and in a furious spray of water, the boats launch down the river, as the calls of the coxwains—the team member responsible for directing the rowers—at the helm of each boat echo over the waves.

Blake Haxton poses with UA Crewmen Branden Curran, Teddy Thompson, and Derek Allen, along with fellow alumni and former teammate Zack Lowe on the morning of the Haxton Invitational. Photo by David Streicher

Back on land, a huge crowd has turned out, with the smokey scent of grills and coffee wafting through the air from the team tents. Despite the large number of people, this is a very select group, with only 13 other teams invited out of dozens in the Midwest. As one walks down the beaten old road through the crowd, one will see Tent City—the complex of rower’s tents seen at every regatta, the origin of much conversation and some tantilizing scents. There is also a new tent apart from the others this year—the VIP Hospitality Tent. This is a new fundraising opportunity for the team scholarship program, where regatta-goers who have purchased a special bracelet to access a VIP viewer’s box and a heater.

Steve Haxton is smiling today, walking around greeting throngs of friends, family and fellow crew enthusiasts. But beneath his cheery demeanor lies a sad story. Two years ago, his son Blake lost his legs to a flesh eating bacteria called Necrotising Fascitis. Over the course of his son’s recovery, Steve remained involved with the team, and last year, the First Haxton Invitational Regatta was held in his son’s honor. Now, Blake coaches for his old team, and he and the rest of the Haxton family continue to support them as well. However, although the team enjoys having Blake back as a coach, he and his family want to move towards a better future.

When Blake returned to the team last year as a summer coach, his team warmly welcomed him back. Christopher Swartz is the men’s head coach on the crew team, and is a close friend of Haxton and his family, and was thrilled to welcome Haxton as a coach.

“It wasn’t even a question,” Swartz said. “Certainly Blake has the knowledge and the desire to and a good eye to look at speed. We tried to do some modifications to make sure he was comfortable in the coaching boats, but he’s been able to adapt to the john boats that we use for coaches, and he seems to be doing just fine.”

The team sees Blake two ways: as a friend off the water, and as a serious leader on it. Between races, one can find Blake surrounded by team members, not just talking about races, but chatting casually. One can see that he isn’t just an authority figure—he gets the jokes, he includes himself with the team, and they respond to this with both admiration and friendliness.

Derek Allen is a junior at UAHS, and has been a rower for UAHS since his freshman year. He said that while Blake is all fun and games on land, in the boats he’s a very strict coach.

“I guess it pretty much sums it up that he’s kind of all discipline, but off the water he’s not ‘that guy,'” he said.

Blake’s old coaches agree that he fits well with the team. Michael Rice is currently the girl’s team coach, and was also Blake’s coach when he first began on the team.

“Blake fits in seamlessly,” he said. “He brings the same passion he did when he was rowing. He has a good eye for the sport.”

Haxton himself has seen the new coaching job as a valuable learning opportunity.

“They always say, you learn more coaching than you do rowing, and that is absolutely true,” he said.  “I think I’ve learned a lot about how kids learn. My communication, you know you can’t say one thing one way and have everybody get it, and that’s been really good for me.”

Blake’s father, Steve, agrees that his son is a natural at coaching.

“He loves the team and he loves the kids, and I think he’s built for it,” he said.

But what does the regatta mean for the crew team? Crew is not known for being one of the most popular sports at the high school, but it is known for having its own fanbase as a spectator sport. Today, the crowd is huge, the competition is rough, and Blake couldn’t be prouder.

“I’m just thrilled that we’re going to get so much great competition in one place. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “ It’s a great spectator sport, and for them to be able to come be here, and be involved in that small way, without actually being part of the team. I think that is just absolutely monumental.”

From a fundraising aspect, the regatta has done well—it has raised $13,000  for scholarships that increase opportunities for rowers in the future, according to event coordinator Janet Hannaway.

The team itself has performed well so far this year.

“We’re big and we’re young” said Blake. “It’s exciting. It’s cool to see the program growing… and getting the community more involved.”

As more boats prepare to launch, Blake heads back to the docks, back to his team, and back to the sport he has stayed in love with for years. Perhaps, even towards a brighter future.

PHOTO: Blake Haxton poses with UA Crewmen Branden Curran, Teddy Thompson, and Derek Allen, along with fellow alumni and former teammate Zack Lowe on the morning of the Haxton Invitational.
Photo by David Streicher