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National Champion Turned Rowing Coach


The University of Tampa has had a great run of National Champions in recent years with the baseball and volleyball teams, but many don’t know that we also have a champion in rowing coach Bill Dunlap.

     “I won several national championships and I don’t even count them anymore, seven or eight world championships,” Dunlap said.

    Dunlap won his races in Europe at various venues, including the Henley Royal Regatta where he was a record holder for 10 years. The races are known as regattas, defined as a series of boat races.

    “Being coached by a world-class rower like Bill is great,” said sophomore Sara Staats. “Not a lot of student athletes can say that their coach was a world champion in their sport and I am lucky enough to be able to say I am.”

    Dunlap came to UT in 1981 to coach the rowing team before it was even recognized as an NCAA sport. Before moving to Tampa, he began his coaching experience in his native Washington D.C., where he coached at a boat club and taught biology at George Mason University, his alma mater.

    “I came to Tampa as a doctoral student at USF and when forced to chose between coaching, which I had gotten hired here to do, and finishing the doctoral program and becoming a teacher, I just thought about it and coaching is a lot more fun,” Dunlap said.

    In 1997, the NCAA officially recognized rowing as a sport. Even though the team had to race in NCAA races, UT was fortunate enough to be able to still participate in their traditional regattas, allowing the team to have more events that are not strictly NCAA events and thus making them more competitive.

   “We survived and [are] pretty well in terms of participation [since] transitioning to NCAA,” Dunlap said. “We are fortunate that rowing predates the NCAA by a century. There are a lot of non-NCAA traditions and our department has allowed us to continue to race in those non-NCAA events.”

    UT not only has the varsity rowing team, but also a club team where anyone who wants to learn about rowing is able to join. Dunlap likes to work with the beginners since he likes to teach, as opposed to the varsity team who already knows what to do and he is just there to give some pointers.

    “I prefer the program like we have where, for the most part, I am teaching the walk-on novelists, I think on some level I enjoy that the most because you are really introducing somebody to something new,” Dunlap said. “[With recruits] it’s like playing with Legos: you don’t make it, you just assemble [and] smooth the edges off a bit, as opposed to someone who walks on and they know nothing.”

    The rowers are currently in their offseason, which is 65 days long. During this time, the team can do voluntary training and still have practice at 6 a.m. for varsity and 4 p.m. for the club team.

    “We participate in 5k fall races, unlike the typical 2k races in the spring,”  junior rower Amelia Herschede said. “The NCAA allows us to practice in the fall, so we take full advantage of that.”

    “We only have two regattas this season, but we use this time to work on all of our skills and learn or try new things, such as new drills and gain experience in the different types of boats that we have,” sophomore rower Izzy Donabed said.

   When Dunlap is not coaching he doesn’t have much time off from the sport because he is making sure everything for the team is up to par. He has to fix the boats if there is something wrong with them, ensure the team has regularly scheduled races, and supervises all aspects of safety.

    “There is always something to do, I suspect I do a lot more fixing of things than most, which is kind of funny because you have at least familiarity with all kinds of things. One minute you’re figuring out a training schedule and the next minute you’re fixing an electronic,” Dunlap said.

    Dunlap wants the team to get as much out of rowing as possible but still have fun and not stress about winning as much. He said that he remembers his least successful than some of his more successful teams, because they were having more fun while rowing.

    “There’s an old saying ‘athletes build character’ I don’t agree with that, I don’t think it builds character but it may uncover it and it may help you to learn what you are capable of doing,” Dunlap said. “You are capable of doing what you are doing and if you do fall short which happens in sports it’s not the end of the world you just get up and rethink a little bit and try again.”

hosted by Eckerd College, where they’ll compete against Claflin University and University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon.

   Later, UT will be hosting the Tampa Classic during the weekend of Dec. 19. Eckerd, Eastern New Mexico University, and Tiffin University will be participating.

   The Spartans will hold their first home game of the season on Nov. 30 against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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