National Schools’ Regatta 2023 will see the end of an era when George Hammond steps down after nearly 40 years of service to junior rowing.
George’s final regatta as Chairman of National Schools’ Regatta will be Friday to Sunday 26th-28th May.
Whilst there will be a formal event in the autumn to mark George’s incredible contribution to the Regatta, the 2023 regatta will give many rowing coaches and others an opportunity to say thank you in person.
Mark Davies, Chairman British Rowing says,
“For so many people (including me!) George *is* the National Schools’ Regatta. He has been synonymous with the event for almost all my conscious life, and given that I’m getting quite old, that’s a very long time. He’s been absolutely fantastic over decades, and generations of oarsmen and women - and the sport as a whole - owe him a huge vote of thanks.”
Rowing has been a part of George’s life since the 1970s when he started rowing at Eton College. His passion for the sport delivered significant achievements, and he represented Eton winning two medals at The National Schools’ Regatta. George won Junior Colts Eights in 1972 when the regatta was held for the final time at the Child-Beale Estate along the River Thames at Pangbourne, and then The Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s Cup in 1974 when the NSR was held at Holme Pierrepont, The National Watersports Centre in Nottingham.
George mixed rowing and sculling with great skill and represented Great Britain in both disciplines; at the Junior World Championships in 1974 as part of the Eight in Ratzburg, Germany, and in 1975 in the Quadruple Scull in Montreal. On both these occasions he was coached by John Langfield.
George’s passion for rowing did not end at school and after leaving, he was drawn to become a volunteer and later on a British Rowing Umpire. In 1985, he was encouraged to ‘lend a hand’ by his friend, Jonathan Hill, whose father founded the regatta in 1947 and with whom he had rowed at school in 1975. George and Jonathan would join the Committee at Holme Pierrepont on a Friday night and set up for the regatta the following day. At this stage, the regatta was a one-day event where 200 crews raced through 60 races.
In 1985 George took over as Entries Secretary from Ronnie Howard and from this point onwards George became the face of the regatta to a generation of School and Club coaches from across the UK. George undertook this role until 2006 when he became Chairman.
George’s warm personality and ability to listen, has meant he has always had a very effective working relationship with busy Coaches and Teachers. He has always strived to find ways to ensure junior rowers could race. George remembers when the legendary Lady Eleanor Holles Rowing Coach, Beryl Crockford, who was invariably late with submitting her entries for the regatta,
“she was a lovely person, inspirational coach but had a delightful disregard for paperwork!”
One year she had six junior girls crews entered into Championship Pairs, an event with 9 entries. Beryl only had 3 boats. George worked with the Umpires and all the Rowing Coaches to run different heats so that all the girls raced, giving everyone the best opportunity to compete and have fun. It is his ability to empathise with rowing coaches that Gillian Lindsay, Head Coach Wimbledon High School highlights:
“It’s fair to say NSR is a show-stopper; there’s no other junior regatta like it in the country and as a sport we’ve help create this. Girls at Wimbledon High talk of their favourite days of school being spent at NSR, it holds a truly special place in our school calendar. I had the pleasure (?) of racing and winning in WJ1x at NSR all those years ago, which ignited an excitement in me to aim for the Olympic Games. At the time there were few female role models, in fact none, that I was aware of.
The backbone to most rowers’ training programme is, at some point, aiming for a NSR win. George has been pivotal in ensuring the standard of racing at NSR remains sky high. He has moved the regatta with the times including the need for more junior events and many, many more junior girls events too. Post covid he listened, and the athletes benefited. He has always made himself visible and approachable throughout NSR with a listening ear all with a sense of calm and empathy too.
On behalf of so many, thank you and well-done George, for ensuring so much growth and depth across junior rowing under your watch.”
George has always placed an emphasis on a first-class competition experience for competitors and coaches, where the racing is important but always retains a sense of fun and excitement for every junior rower. The line of tents along the rowing course are a key feature of the regatta, and George places a great importance on the clubs and schools who host crews and spectators within these. The line of spectators along the course, watching, cheering and celebrating every race that passes, brings a very special ‘festival’ atmosphere to the regatta.
Mark Banks, (Competitor in 1975 and 76, Chief Coach GB Junior Team 1991-2000, Chief Coach Leander 2000-2021, Currently CEO Janousek and Stampfli) reflects on the impact George has had on junior rowing,
“What an amazing legacy George is leaving with not only a massive increase in participation in our sport, but he has also fostered a culture for athletes and coaches to have a fabulous experience at a friendly, welcoming regatta as well.
I competed at the National School’s way back in the mid-70s and although I didn’t know George then, I got to know him when I became Chief Coach of the GB Junior Team in 1991. George has been instrumental in supporting the GB rowing team long before the lottery funding came along. His foresight and the National Schools’ undoubtedly contributed to the success of the GB Junior team and in turn the success of the National Team.
3 cheers for George, a Great Chairman, a Great Man!”
In 17 years as Chairman, George has always run a great team, where he values the contribution of all Committee Members and the many Umpires and volunteers who return year after year to support junior rowing. George always made everyone smile, with his ability to engage everyone at meetings always with the overriding objective being to deliver a great racing opportunity.
George has had very clear ambition; to retain the heritage and ethos of the very first regattas and to keep this running through any new developments. During his tenure, the regatta has become so large that the racing runs for 10 hours a day over three days, and harnessing technology has enabled the initial radio coverage to develop in to a Live Video Stream with live results. George has facilitated change and he has always managed to retain the family feel of the regatta, with a warm welcome for everyone involved.
Growing junior rowing in competition has been important to George but so has the development of the charitable outreach work of the regatta. Over the 40 years that George has been involved, working with Trustees and Honorary Treasurers, he has ensured the growth of this grant-making charity. The National Schools’ Regatta Shop, selling the famous ‘Names’ tee-shirts amongst their items was a Hammond family-driven enterprise, and to date has generated over £400,000 for the National Schools Charity, as profits from the shop are directed to junior rowing projects.
As George reflects on his time with National Schools’ Regatta he says,
“The National Schools’ Regatta is a very special event, created by Desmond Hill OBE to provide racing for all junior crews and I was especially pleased when my very good friend Jonathan Hill informed me that I was to join him on the NSR Committee. We have had a lot of fun over the years. It is wonderful to see the event coming together in the months leading up to the event, to see junior rowers, rowing coaches and the many supporters enjoying the event. It brings a huge amount of satisfaction to see the next generation being so enthused with our sport. I will miss everything about it.”
There have been challenges over his time as Chairman, the cancellation of any racing due to bad weather has always been a huge disappointment to George. The great pleasure in witnessing juniors from all over the UK competing, whether for their first time in Octuple Sculls or in the Championship events for a coveted medal is always evident. One of the warmest memories George recalls is the day a parent from Nottingham bounced up and thanked him for giving his daughter a chance to race. This father felt the opportunity to race at a top event had given her so much, it had changed her. This is for George what sport is all about, learning a new skill, working as a team, and competing with full commitment regardless of the result - fabulous experiences for young people.
George is a calm and thoughtful leader who has always drawn the very best out of those around him. He is the man behind the scenes, who never asks for any attention. George is held with the utmost respect with the rowing community, not just at NSR, we must not forget his many years working at Henley Royal Regatta where, as a Steward on the Committee of Management he oversaw the Entries process for 14 years, and also continues to be Chairman of the ever-popular Bedford Regatta.
As with many great leaders, George has ensured that his successor is in place. George will be succeeded by Mike Martin, who is a very well-known and respected teacher and rowing coach in the British and Scottish school community. Mike has been working with the Committee over the past year to ensure a smooth transition.
On behalf of the many thousands of junior rowers and coaches who have passed through the National Schools’ racing weekends over the 40 years, thank you George, you will be missed incredibly by the many friends you have made over the years, but we know your passion for junior rowing will remain and that you will always be a huge part of the history of the regatta.