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Scotch rowers ready for Head of the River

Written on the 22 March 2017 by scotch

What started 95 years ago with a challenge between a public and a private school has become SA's biggest and most prestigious school sports event.

For Scotch College student Zach Cooper-Baldock, listening to rap music in a shed pumps him up for the biggest race of the rowing calendar.

The First VIII boys crew captain uses music to help him deal with pre-race nerves in the lead up to giving his crew the final instructions.

"We're all pretty nervous and stuffy, but we try to break that down with sitting in the sheds before we get in the boat," Cooper-Baldock, 17, of Urrbrae, says.

"We listen to music, hang out, make sure our heart rate is right ... and talk about our race plan. We've played a couple of songs by Eminem, rap music, in the past to get us in the zone - Lose Yourself is popular."

Then comes his most important walk of the school year to date the journey to the lake.

"Everything we have done in the past seven months is built up for that moment, that six minute race," Cooper-Baldock says. "It is a big event that means a lot to the school, us and our supporters."

On Saturday, Cooper-Baldock a veteran of four Head of the River regattas will take a seat in one of the 193 boats to contest races at the interschool competition. With more than 1000 competitors representing 15 public and private schools, and crowd numbers nudging 10,000, the regatta is by far the biggest school sports event in SA.

"In terms of spectators it is comfortably the biggest event on the SA rowing calendar," Rowing SA chief executive David Hutton says.

"While there are a number of races on the day, the eights events are the blue-ribbon races and it is a real feather in the cap for the school that wins."

The origins of the modern-day Head of the River trace back to 1922, when St Peter's College challenged Adelaide High School to a "private versus public" race along the River Torrens. Adelaide High's Black and Whites won that day, but private schools have dominated the headline 2000m race since it became a regular fixture in the mid-1970s.

St Peter's College has won the Gosse Shield 21 times, while Walford First VIII crews have lifted the Florence Eaton Cup on 16 occasions.

The pursuit of the two trophies has become big business, too, with the schools splashing the cash to gain the edge on their competitors. In 2015, the Mitcham & Hills Messenger (now HillsValley) reported Scotch College bought 26 new boats at an estimated cost of more than $300,000 in the lead-in to a season that culminated in its boys' First VIII win.

The schools have, in recent years, brought in some of Australia's best rowers to coach and mentor their crews, with Olympians Amber Halliday, Toby Lister and James McRae working with Pembroke, Scotch and St Peter's respectively. The prestige of the event, and the schools' significant investment in achieving the ultimate success, creates a heightened sense of expectation for the top boys' and girls' crews on race day.

"Any crews coming down the course doing the best race they can makes me extremely happy," says Scotch College's rowing director Jarrad Schar. "To win is a great achievement and something we strive for with all the age groups, but the satisfaction and enjoyment students get from the race is what ... makes me really happy."

-- original article by Dan Jervis-Bardy and Celeste Villani appeared in HillsValley Weekly, 22 March 2017. Photo (Calum Robertson): Captains Maddy Seeley and Zach Cooper-Baldock from Scotch College and Alistair Rowe and Anna Ford from Unley High.

Author: scotch

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