Underneath the busy causeway where M-45 crosses the Grand River, a fleet of narrow boats; each with varying groupings
of pairs, fours and eights; row crisply against the current of the murky waters. Apart from the hum of buses and cars passing overhead, there is only the rhythmic sound of paddles pushing uniformly through the water. From aboard a small motorboat, a deep male voice bellows from behind an old blue bullhorn megaphone.
"Here we go, 4-to-1," it said. "When we change the ratio, let's keep the same recovery and increase the speed through the water."
The sights and sounds of Grand Valley State University head coach John Bancheri and the GVSU club rowing team can be both impressive and intimidating. During a typical Monday practice on the water, 140 student athletes were out on the water with Bancheri as he weaved his boat between the rowers, shouting commands as he passed.
There is much more to booming Bancheri than meets the eye.
"I'm not as rough as my exterior," he said. "I'm the John Madden of crew - I'm big, I'm loud and I'm opinionated."
Bancheri's coaching philosophy has helped him build successful rowing programs at the University of Charleston, Wichita State University and Marietta College. He arrived at GVSU in 2005.
He describes himself as "the coach from the other side of the tracks" and said he doesn't fit the appearance of a typical rowing coach.
Like their coach, there is more to GVSU's rowing team than meets the eye.
"We have kids going to the National team levels, other universities trying to recruit our kids because we're a club, competing in California and England. I'm proud of what we've accomplished in the time I've been here," Bancheri said. "A lot of people at Harvard know of Grand Valley because of rowing, a lot of people in England at Cambridge and Oxford know of Grand Valley because of rowing, and that's pretty cool."
The team's success can be measured by Bancheri's passion for rowing and his determination to drive his student athletes to reach their potential and beyond.
Sarah Zelenka, who graduated in 2009, began rowing as a novice under Bancheri and was part of the 2009 Dad Vail Champion Varsity Eight crew while at GVSU. Recently, Zelenka led Team USA's Women's Four team to the 2011 World Championship final where they defeated Australia, the Netherlands, China and Italy for the gold medal.
"When Coach Bancheri first came to the program my freshman year he brought with him strong goals for the program, high expectations and a winning attitude," Zelenka told Row2K in a 2010 interview. "He is a very good technical coach on the water."
The GVSU rowing program welcomes all students that come out for rowing. Bancheri runs the program with a "Darwinistic" philosophy.
"We call it boathouse Darwinism - natural selection - where only the strong survive," Bancheri said "But it's not just the physically strong that survive, it's the mentally strong and the academically strong. It's a combination of everything."
He values his entire team including the newcomers and students
at different skill levels.
"We will never cut," he said. "What we do is we push. The weakest person is very important to the program because the better that person gets, the more it forces everybody else up the ladder - you're not just pulling from the top, you're also pushing from the bottom."
For more, go to http://www.lanthorn.com/index.php/article/2011/09/gv_head_coach_bancheri_leads_with_passion_determination