Charlie Butt

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Charles Stahley "Charlie" Butt, Jr. (1919–1992) was one of the earliest high school rowing coaches in Northern Virginia and instrumental in the growth of scholastic rowing in the Washington D.C. Area and nationwide.

Coaching career[edit]

After graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering from MIT in 1941 where it is believed he had been both a lightweight oarsman and coxswain. After graduation Charlie moved to Northern Virginia. In 1949, he approached the administration at Washington-Lee High School, offering to start a rowing team.

In their inaugural season the Varsity Crew won all but one race and culminated the season with a sweep of the "Big Three:" NoVa's (Northern Virginia Championships), Stotesbury Cup and the National Schoolboy Championships held that year in Detroit, Michigan. Charlie once offered a personal note to their championship win, crediting it to his refusal to let the W-L oarsmen fraternise with the other crews who stayed up late the night before playing cards in the gymnasium that collectively housed the contestants.

"Charlie" as rowers and fellow coaches called him, was head coach of Washington-Lee High School's Crew(W-L Crew [1]) program in Arlington, VA for 41 years. He is often regarded as the Father of Washington, DC area Scholastic Rowing due to his instrumental roles in organising numerous rowing programs in the area, both scholastic and collegiate. Charlie coached while working full-time for the Department of Defense as an Aeronautical Engineer. He often arrived to practices dressed as an engineer, often wearing a tan Haspel suit, white shirt, bow tie and spectacles, often with his Beaver class ring. In 1979 and 1980, he was recognised as Washingtonian of the Year for his contribution to many in his successful rowing programs, which had touched so many people and area high schools. Arguably Charlie's most notable accomplishment as a coach was coaching his W-L Varsity Eight to win the Princess Elizabeth Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in Henley-on-Thames, England in 1964, the third time he had taken the W-L crew to England. This race marked the first instance in which an American team had won the prestigious regatta. The W-L Crew's first trip to the Henley Royal Regatta was in 1960; the second time being 1962, when the crew made the semi-finals of the Thames Cup competition, a significant accomplishment against an international field of collegiate and club men's teams. At that time, the Stewards of the Regatta accepted only British entries to the schoolboy event, the Princess Elizabeth Cup), requiring Charlie's team to race against collegiate athletes. In 1964, the Stewards opened the Princess Elizabeth Cup competition to foreign crews, making Charlie's W-L Varsity eight the first American crew to win the cup. Charlie's third effort at the Henley in 1966 fell victim to a mid-race equipment failure that effectively prevented one man from rowing, but his crew returned in 1969 to win the Cup a second time. Since there was no other international schoolboy competition at the time, this was a de facto world championship for Charlie's crews. (More recently, there is organized international competition for both boys and girls under 18.) Since rowing was only a club sport at Washington-Lee, a public high school, most of the money was raised locally to take his crew, boat and oars to England where they stayed in the neighboring town of Nettlebed. Over the years, his crews also had 19 scholastic National titles and numerous Stotesbury Cup and Northern Virginia Championships. He has coached many Olympians including Tony Johnson, the current head rowing coach of Georgetown University who gives credit to Charlie for his love for the sport.

Being an instrumental person in the growth and development of youth rowing, Charlie also spent many summers, and falls coaching rowers at Potomac Boat Club (PBC). Between 1961 and 1980 Charlie hosted and coached boats comprising parts of the Junior Men's National Team, rowing out of PBC.

Boathouses[edit]

The creation of new rowing venues to allow for greater participation in the sport was of paramount importance to Charlie. He worked with many dedicated people to help create the Sandy Run Regional Park rowing facility on the Occoquan River in Fairfax Station, VA. He consulted as well on the development of Thompson Boat Center, a public rowing facility in Washington, DC, located near the Kennedy Center. Butt's ultimate vision was for the creation of an Arlington County boat house, where teams and individuals from Arlington County, and other close jurisdictions could row from. Unfortunately Charlie passed before he could realise his dream and see his W-L team row from the Virginia shore.

Personality and Philosophy[edit]

Charlie was a major proponent of teaching people of all levels to row. He was happy to stop and talk with, explain, or coach any interested person or group. He shared the idea that it was the novice rowers who were the key to the continued success of a team. He also believed that rowing required hard work and dedication, and if one chose to pursue it that it could teach you things about life as well. He was known for having very strong and definite feelings about how the sport should be run and the direction it should go in. He was also a strong proponent of sculling and always incorporated it into his coaching. He believed that the fine skills and precision needed to scull well transferred directly to sweep rowing; he often credited the success of his rowers to their ability to row either scull or sweep. This rounded view point applied to all areas of his coaching style. Charlie was an early and continued believer in cross-training for success on the water, and health off. Coxswains were also held in high regard by Charlie. It was common for him to describe them as the "quarterbacks" of the crew. He was keenly aware that their skills could have a direct impact on the success of a boat. This worked directly into his philosophy that everyone on a crew was valuable and that a crew was only as fast as their "weakest link." Everyone who knew Charlie would probably characterise him as honest, direct, thoughtful, spirited, compassionate, energetic, dedicated, wise, intelligent, learned, a scholar of the sport, and sometimes cantankerous. Particularly notable was Charlie's high standard of sportsmanship. Charlie emphatically did not want his crews humiliating other crews on the racecourse by running up very large margins of victory. Charlie would get seriously angry if one of his crews won a race by much more than a length "open water" (about 10 seconds) over the next crew behind it. He called this "poking fingers in their [the competitor's] eyes."

Charlie was one of the very few coaches in the world who never cut an athlete from the team. He made room for EVERY boy and girl who joined the team and provided races for them whenever possible. For example, in the 1965 season, after the crew had won the Princess Elizabeth Cup in England and interest in crew was at an all-time high, the W-L crew put eight eight-oared crews, two four-oared crews and a quadruple scull on the water, or 76 rowers and 10 coxswains.

Innovator and Inventor[edit]

Charlie was known as a tinkerer. He often collected boat parts and other mechanical tidbits and used them in efforts to create more efficient rowing gear. Having many friends in the national and international rowing community it was not uncommon for Charlie to consult with and be consulted by boat, oar, and other rowing manufacturers. Charlie was partial to Volkswagens and drove a black VW Bug convertible, a Karmegia, or a station wagon. The cars were repositories for rowing gear and often accommodated boats and oars to be repaired in the basement shop in his home. The full shop in his basement and garage (which may never have seen a car) and proceeded to build composite singles (1x) during the late 70's through the mid 80's. The shells were known to be stable and fast, perfect for beginners especially. He also was known for creating rowing barges out of two shells placed side by side and connected via a metal scaffold and plywood. Charlie created and experimented with some of the earliest catamaran coaching launches, building them using old 1x's for the pontoons.

Family life[edit]

Charlie married Ms. Mildred "Millie" Martin, originally from North Carolina and then a gym teacher at W-L. They eventually settled in McLean, VA where they raised their family. Together Charlie and Millie had five children: Susan, Sarah, Janie, Nancy and Charles,(Charley) III. Both Nancy and Charley followed in their dad's foot steps and both rowed and coached. The family were fond of travel and often spent vacations in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Many of their family trips, along with countless rowing practices and regattas, were captured on film and in video by Charlie. Photography was a hobby and a tool that he enjoyed. Unfortunately many of said cameras can be found on the bottom of the Potomac River as well.

Illness & Passing[edit]

The 1990 spring rowing season saw Charlie becoming increasingly bothered by illness. It was discovered not long after that he was suffering from acute leukemia. Charlie continued to coach into the fall of 1991, but saw his energy, but not spirit, begin to fade. Even once bed ridden Charlie still entertained visitors in the form of past and current W-L team members (who still came to do yard work for the family even after his retirement), associates from PBC, friends, and family. It was with great sadness that word was sent out of his death in the early spring of 1992.


Highlights[edit]

  • Coached 41 years
  • Lightweight coxswain and oarsman at MIT, Graduated 1941
  • Member of Potomac Boat Club
  • Coached 1967 US Junior World's Team in Ratzeburg, Germany
  • Coached 1971 US Junior World's Team in Bled, Yugoslavia
  • Coached 1977 US Junior World's Team in Tampere, Finland
  • Coached 1978 US Junior World's Team in Belgrade, Yugoslavia
  • Coached 1980 US Junior World's Team in Hazewinkle, Belgium
  • Coached 1981 US Junior World's Team in Pancharevo, Bulgaria
  • 1967 Junior Champ. Men Jr. 4+ 11th Coach
  • 1971 Junior Champ. Men Jr. 2+, 2 10th Coach
  • 1973 Junior Champ. Men Jr. Team Hd Mgr
  • 1977 Junior Champ. Men Jr. Team Hd Mgr
  • 1978 Junior Champ. Men Jr. Team Coach
  • 1980 Junior Champ Men Jr. 4 8th Coach
  • 1981 Junior Champ. Men Jr. Team Coach

Honors and Accomplishments

  • 1964 Arlington Sports Hall of Fame
  • 1981 U.S. Rowing Association's John Carlin Service Award
  • 1987 U.S. Rowing Association's Jack Kelly Award
  • 1979 & 1980 Washingtonian Magazine "Washingtonian of the Year"
  • Washington Post "All-Met Men's Rowing Coach" 1987, 89
  • Virginia Athletic Directors, Administrators, and Coaches Association Award
  • Point man and Finance Chairman for the building of the Occoquan rowing facility
  • Helped start Yorktown, Wakefield, GWU, Georgetown U, & UVA crews, among many others

Notable People Coached by Charlie[edit]

  • Pete Sparhawk: W-L '49, coached Princeton Heavyweights
  • Tony Johnson: W-L '58, 1964 Olympian, head coach Yale, Head Coach Georgetown University
  • Sean Hall: W-L '85, 1992, 1996 & 2000 Olympian
  • Steve Robinson: W-L '90, US National Team lightweight
  • Michael Callahan: W-L '92, University of Washington Captain, US National Team, U of W Men's Head Coach
  • E. Fredrick Borchelt: 1984 Olympian, Potomac Boat Club
  • Walter Lubsen: 1984 Olympian, Potomac Boat Club

Honors in Charlie's Name[edit]

  • Charlie Butt trophy awarded to Boys JV8 at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in May of each year
  • Charlie Butt trophy, which has been awarded to the men's varsity eight Mid-Atlantic winner since 1993
  • Charlie Butt Sculler's Head of the Potomac
  • Charlie Butt Regatta, held each spring on the Potomac River, for scholastic crews


References[edit]