MARIETTA - Two sleek, black carbon fiber rowing shells sliced through the waters of the Muskingum River on their maiden voyage after being christened by the Marietta High School Tiger Navy crew teams and coaches Tuesday afternoon.
"How's it feel?," girls coach Joe Tewkesbury shouted across the water to one of his four-member crew teams piloting one of the new vessels.
"It rows like butter!" the girls called back.
The state-of-the-art 40-foot shells, complete with on-board communications systems, were christened the "Tanner M. O'Conner," in honor of the current boy's coach, and the "1964," to mark the 50th year of rowing competition at Marietta High.
O'Conner was visibly surprised after former crew coach Eric Dowler announced one of the boats would bear his name.
Dowler expressed his appreciation for O'Conner's friendship and dedication as both worked with the crew teams.
"As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend," Dowler said, quoting from Proverbs 27:17.
O'Conner thanked Dowler and the crew teams for the honor.
"I've learned just about everything from Eric - not just about rowing, but about many other important things, like striving to be a good person and doing your best," he said.
Tewkesbury led the christening ceremony, noting the tradition goes back thousands of years.
"A proper christening ensures good performance by the boat and its crew," he said. "The Titanic was never christened and it sank on its maiden voyage."
Tewkesbury said in addition to the christening, tradition calls for the boat to be waterborne immediately afterward.
"It's bad luck if you don't," he said as two crews, one boys and one girls, carried the new shells to the river for a quick trial run.
MHS Prinicpal Bill Lee attended the christening ceremony, along with a crowd of crew members, parents, and other supporters.
"You've heard me say it before, tradition doesn't graduate," he told the students. "This is 50 years of tradition, and you are all part of it as crew members and students."
Rowing became part of MHS sports in 1963, and the first competition was in 1964, Tewkesbury said.
"That same year Parkersburg High, Parkersburg Catholic, and Wheeling Central also started rowing teams," he said. "So we competed against the Parkersburg teams that first year."
Tewkesbury noted that Marietta College began its rowing program in 1876.
O'Conner said there were 18 boys and 26 girls on last year's crew teams, compared to some past years when there were as many as 45 girls and an equal number of boys on the teams.
"In 2011 we graduated 17 seniors who were on the team, and those haven't been completely replaced yet," he said, adding that the school is hoping to rebuild the program and add more members this year.
This season's first competition will probably come in March of next year when MHS will challenge Parkersburg and Parkersburg South high schools, O'Conner said.