Early beginnings of Wayne State Rowing

Among the dozens of shells in the Belle Isle Boat House building, one boat stands out. Written on the side is the name of the founder and first coach of Wayne State’s rowing team — Judson “Jud” O. Ross. He began the university’s program in 1957 and led the team until 1976.

Ross was nationally known for coaching some of the most successful championship teams. The first shell ever used for Wayne State’s crew was the “eight” used by the University of Washington when it represented the United States in the 1956 Olympics. Ross would eventually take that shell with him to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory, where he coached for a few more years after leaving Wayne State.

While the current — and future hopeful — Wayne State rowers ship out at the Boat Club Crew Boat House, the early Ross teams had their own house on Belle Isle. It was located in a large building on the island, on the opposite side of the MacArthur Bridge to the current Belle Isle Boat House. The team moved to the current Detroit Boat Club in 1968 after that original crew house was demolished to make way for an enlarged Detroit Police Harbormaster facility.

Dennis Wojdyla ‘75 runs the DBCC’s rowing operations, including the Learn-to-Row program that set Chudzik and Manchester on their paths. He also rowed under Ross’ tutelage.

“I was a walk-on in 1971 at Wayne State. It was a great time and experience,” Wojdyla said. “Plus, to be on campus and part of a sport that’s so closely tight-knit, you can’t beat it.”