Hurricanes Enter New Millennium

Sept. 28, 1999

Fourteen years have passed since Joe “Okie” O’Connor put together the first men’s and women’s crews. Over that period, the University of Miami Crew program has achieved great success and set itself up for a great run in 2000.

It all began in December of 1986, when the University hired Okie as its first and only head coach. He had been serving as an assistant coach with the Cornell University Rowing Program for two season’s prior.

After starting the program from the ground level in late 1986, Okie had little time to put together his first men’s and women’s crews for its first season in spring of 1987. He set out on campus and eventually gathered enough students. Those first crews were made largely of walk-ons with a few that had high school rowing experience.

During that first season the Hurricanes used the Miami Rowing Club on Key Biscayne as its headquarters. Surprisingly, also in that first season, the women’s novice eight won what would be considered its national championship with a Gold Medal at the National Dad Vail National Rowing Championship in Philadelphia, PA.

The next season, the men’s varsity four won that program’s first Gold Medal at the Dad Vail, while the men’s and women’s novice eight earned Silver Medals. Further on that season, at the Intercollegiate Rowing Championship (IRA) in Syracuse, NY, a men’s open four went on to win Gold.

For its first two seasons, UM had a strong novice program, but the long-term future dealt with the rise of the varsity program. So as the 1989 season approached, Okie placed more of an emphasis at the varsity level. That season was highlighted by the women’s junior varsity eight Bronze Medal at the Dad Vail.

With further growth and experience, the early 1990’s brought on continued success at the novice level with the varsity program dominating at the state level. The 1991 season was highlighted by the men’s novice eight bronze finish at the Dad Vail.

In 1992, after years of coming so close, the men’s varsity eight finally took home a medal with a bronze finish at the Dad Vail.

The 1993 season, perhaps the greatest in UM’s history, was filled with accomplishment. In October, the Ronald W. Shane Watersports Center was dedicated and became the new home to the University of Miami Rowing Program. The 4,200 square-foot facility is built on the Indian Creek Waterway in Miami Beach.

That same season, the men’s and women’s novice eight both won Gold at the Dad Vail, while the women’s novice eight took home Silver and the men’s novice eight Bronze at the Champion Intercollegiate Championship. In addition, both teams swept competition at the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship. To follow, Okie was honored as the Southeast Collegiate Coach of the Year, while the Hurricanes were named the Southeast Collegiate Team of the Year.

The following season in 1994, the men’s novice eight won Silver at the Champion, while the men’s varsity pair grabbed the Silver at the IRA. The women’s novice eight won Bronze at the Champion.

The 1995-96 seasons saw the program continue its success at the state level while ever-improving its times when racing against national competition.

Beginning with the 1997-98 season, Okie took over head coaching duties of the varsity women’s crew. During the past three seasons, the varsity women’s crew has been the team to beat in Florida, winning at the Head of the Creek and Head of the South regattas in three straight seasons. The women’s team has also taken home medals at the President’s Cup, Key Biscayne Yacht Club Cup and most recently the state and regional titles at the Florida and Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Championships, respectively.