On the rare occasion a Thomas Jefferson High shell fails to cross the finish line first at the Occoquan, a local paper headlines the race. Its news. Thomas Jeffersons Mens 1st 8 (when using starter rowers) hasnt lost a race on the Virginia River in years. The girls varsity boats have nearly as strong a record.
In fact, the only pictures from the Occoquan the Post has printed in several seasons has been of the Robinson girls team two wins (most recently, after the TJ boat suffered a broken seat and was hit by another boat). Maybe it seems enough to cover TJs academic successes – the school is rated #1 in the nation by US News and World Report.
TJ kids are supposed to be nerds, not jocks. TJ kids win science fairs, are merit scholars and have an SAT average of 2155. Theyre brainy public school kids who wear a uniform of droopy jeans and quirky tees. How then are they the dominating athletes in a sport associated with private schools, boathouses, endowments, blazers, and crests? But none of that is what matters when the rowers are on the water.
What matters is Stotesbury — the Stotes as they’re known — a race on the Schuyhill widely regarded as the most prestigious high school regatta in the country. There, TJ has faced and beaten some of the most well funded, well recruited, well trained teams anywhere. Despite the lack of money, county rules forbidding off season team training, constant repairing of aging boats, long drives to a shared boathouse, and the daily hours of study to maintain 4.0 GPAs, Jefferson rowers can slap on their schools tongue in cheek bumper sticker, TJ: We came for the Sports with genuine pride. Despite the odds, these determined nerds win Stotesbury, States and Nationals year after year. But can they do it in 2008?
On April 19, the team traveled to St. Andrews School in Delaware to compete against some of the Northeasts most notable crew powerhouses, including St. Josephs Prep, Kent, and Greenwich. This year, the Jefferson girls poured on the speed and their 2nd, 3rd, novice and freshman 8s all came in second. The boys had a tougher time with none of the top three boats placing. But TJ has lost most years at St. Andrews maybe too confident from their local wins, maybe too unsteady after only being on the water a few weeks; and yet, somehow, with only a few more weeks training theyve managed to glide past those same teams to bring home their sports most cherished Cup. No doubt, the loss at St. Andrews stung. Last June, Jefferson graduated its largest group of senior varsity rowers and has had some major coaching changes. But they havent retreated and called this a rebuilding year.
The team members have another bumper sticker on those mileage weary cars: TJ Crew: A Winning Tradition.