April 21, 2012
This feature appeared in the Saturday edition of K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
Weatherly Butler openly admits, "I don't really like sports."
Then, she proves it when asked if she's as recognized strolling the K-State campus as much as ... ohhhh, say Rodney McGruder?
Giving an embarrassed laugh, she honestly replied, "I don't know. Who's he?"
Really ... she did!
Butler, whose first name - Weatherly - is the maiden name of her great grandmother - you see, is more into golf, and bowling, and being the coxswain for the Varsity 8 boat for the K-State rowing team. Other than that, she frankly says, "I'm in sports, but not a big sports fan."
Now, one might think that Collin Klein is fairly powerful within the Wildcat football team, or even what's-his-name McGruder with the basketball team. But when it comes to the most influential athlete on any given K-State team, it's this 5-foot-3, 115-pound product out of Free State High School in Lawrence, Kan.
Of that Varsity 8 boat, she calls it, "My boat," and, "My girls."
Within her boat, she honestly has the power to say who's in, and who's out.
"As a coxswain, it's my job. I'm looking down the boat and can tell better than anyone who's not getting the job done, and I let them know that. They're either doing it, or not," said Butler. "It's my responsibility to talk to coach about what I'm seeing."
While that could certainly cause team friction, Butler says, "We want girls to get mad if that's what it takes. We want fighters who will make up the best team possible. We have to be able to trust one another and if one girl is not doing her job, there won't be trust."
This is exactly what Butler is coached to do by Sweeney, an Olympic-level coxswain, himself, for Great Britain back in his competitive days.
"She's like a jockey. You provide them with all the information, but when you push them off she is in charge of the boat. There are no timeouts in rowing," said Sweeney. "You push them off and just walk away. No amount of shouting or screaming will do any good. My job is in her hands."
While saying that he would never say that one position in a boat is more important than another, Sweeney does say, "Like a jockey, as the saying goes, `A coxswain never wins a race, but they can lose a race. They'll take the blame when a race is lost, but never get credit when a race is won."
To that, Butler smiles as she says, "That's the nature of our game. It's just the way it is."
Butler came to K-State as a defensive specialist in volleyball and a 170 average bowler, but of rowing, she says she knew "... nothing. Absolutely nothing."
But during registration of her freshman year, she saw the rowing booth, went to an information meeting, and then, "I just kept coming. I'm one of those people who likes to be busy. The busier I am the better I am with time management. I'm not into the Greek thing, but I wanted something outside of academics."
Four years later, Butler is excelling as a student-athlete as a member of the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll with a major in economics, and a two-year starter as coxswain of the K-State Varsity 8 boat.
Her boat; her girls.
While K-State lists Butler at a whopping 5-foot-3, she openly admits, "Nooo ... 5-foot-2 on a good day. (Pause) OK, 5-foot1... 5-foot-1 ½."
Laughing, she said, "In a sport where girls are close to a foot taller than I am, I'm sure they look at me and say, `Who is this little person bossing me around? Why do I have to listen to this little person? But they know while they could race without one (coxswain), it's a big help to have us there."
But she does admit to being somewhat of an outsider: "The other girls bond together because they lift and do other things together, but sometimes a coxswain just goes to practice, tells them what to do in the boat, and then leaves. I'm sure I wasn't real popular in the beginning."
But what developed was an appreciation for the knowledge gained by Butler in navigating her boat from Point A to Point B in the shortest amount of time through her sudden vocal bursts, to elongated vocalizing that keeps those with oars in rhythm.
Of the K-State race plan, she says, "I try to stay three steps ahead of coach, but he's always five steps ahead of me."
That is, until the K-State boat is pushed off shore. Then it turns into "... my boat, with my girls."
IN ACTION THIS WEEKEND: Fresh from sweeping Kansas for the Kansas Cup, K-State's crews will be taking part in the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships (SIRAs) this weekend at Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
After sweeping the Jayhawks in five races two weeks ago, head coach Patrick Sweeney said of his crews, "Even though the crews have been going well, we've made slight changes in the lineups to reflect the progress our younger athletes have made this season earning their way into the top 20 seats on the racing team. Our aim with these minor modifications is to see continued improvement in boat speed."