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  • Reverend James Squire

The Boy in the Boat


I recently read that coincidences are God’s way of letting us know that he is paying attention. That sentiment is a key to my blogs and when I am writing a sermon. I never sit down and say to myself that it is time to write. A complete disclosure that shapes my writing is when I see a connection between and among things that connect in a way where a connection doesn’t seem to be obviously present makes the writing process happen.


There are times when I was addressing my students in chapel that I would say “What does (then indicate a series of things, events, etc.) have in common? In fact, there have been times when students would play me in a chapel skit and begin by asking the question, “What does _______, _______ ______ and _______ have in common?” Laughter would ensue, but when I would see them in the hallways, they shared with me that the gimmick holds their attention for they are wondering how are those seemingly disconnected things are going to be connected?


This blog is dedicated to the Pratt family who lost a son, Paul, in an automobile accident. The family talks about Paul and feels his presence. They have great memories of him. Paul was one of the best rowers in the nation with a bright future ahead of him. I recently watched The Boys in the Boat directed by George Clooney based on the real-life story by Dan Brown about how eight guys from the University Washington who were poor and working class went on to win gold in the 1936 Olympics in Germany with Hitler watching with anger spread across his face. The boys in the boat overcame so many obstacles before that victory.


Notice in the title of this blog, I have not forgotten a letter in the title. This blog is a tribute to one boy who is in a boat and that is Paul Pratt who took a corner too fast and turned over his van after crew practice. But I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t receive the Episcopal Academy Magazine where the section in the back profiled an alumnus who had just joined a very important Board coupled with a picture of him. It was the alumnus who called me with the police’s encouragement to identify who the student was. He had EA attire on but with no other identification. This alumnus knew that I would know him. Coincidence?


I went to the scene of the accident, parked my car in front of the SUV and took one of the longest walks of my life to the rear of the van where I would identify the victim as Paul. The police and I went to the Pratt home and informed Joe of his son’s death. Kimberly Pratt, Paul’s mother, was on her way home from picking up her son, Doug, from college.


That movie and seeing the face of the alumnus who called me triggered the memory of that night and hence this blog for there was a third thing that connected me to Paul. Joe Pratt had recently sent me a video which I have placed at the end.


How does building a boat and rowing develop character? As you watch the video you will see and hear from one of the best builders of boats and legendary rowing coaches explain why rowing is a sport and boat building an art but so much more for as one person put it, “it touches the soul.”


George Pocock is a builder of boats but he is also a philosopher and theologian although he would not claim to be either of those things.


There is a value system in rowing that makes it a sport and a formation of men and women to live the ethical life. If I paraphrase some of the key ethical statements in the movie below among many things is that when the rower, the boat, and the water reach a state of oneness then you feel as though you are touching the eternal.


Rowing teaches leadership. It is pointed out that before Napoleon went into battle he would emerge from his tent, shake the hands of his officers, and look them in the eye and they knew instinctively what he wanted from them.


I have never rowed, but we all know that it requires ultimate effort and then some by what it demands of the body, but what the rower learns is how you can find your limits but reach beyond your limits for that is what rowing requires as muscles hurt and lungs burn.


I was struck by the core issue of rowing that there is a thin line between doing for yourself and shifting your attitude to doing your personal best not for you but for others in the boat. It holds true for coaches as well who are very competitive. In essence, it provides you with an experience where “you can be the master of your sense of self.”


Paul assimilated what is experienced in rowing teaching character to rowers. I taught him in Ethics Class. Unfortunately, I had too many students die during my time for 38 years at EA and during the years after. I always told parents that “we would never forget him/her and we don’t.” EA pays attention to legacy!


When I retired from EA, one of the gifts I received was a new boat the team would use in their races with my name across the bow. I would get emails from folks who would let me know that “my boat won today.”


So, if I were giving a sermon, I would begin by saying, “What do coincidences, God, a best seller, a rower, an alumnus, and ethics have to do with one another?



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