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Row, Row….No you don’t

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SA temporarily de-recognizes crew team amidst coaching scandal and other charges 

By Lauren Mineau 
News Editor 
March 11, 2013
Photo by Lauren Mineau
The UAlbany Rowing boathouse, which serves as the launch site for rowing practices and meets.

The UAlbany Rowing and Crew Club Team (UAlbany Rowing) has been temporarily de-recognized by the Student Association (SA) amidst alleged misconduct by their coach, issues with campus recreation, collection of dues and purchase of alcohol.

The allegations were announced at the Feb. 13 SA meeting; it was at that point which the rowers heard about the charges, however they were not formally notified until the SA Senate meeting two weeks later on Feb. 27. According to SA and SA President Arthur Rushforth, Rushforth himself has padlocked the boathouse; denying access to anyone including team members while their coach, Todd Rutecki has had a cease and desist order issued to him through the City of Albany prohibiting him from engaging in his usual responsibilities with the team. After investigation, the ASP was unable to find record of any cease and desist order through Albany Police or the City of Albany.

The Crew team feels these grievances stem from a harassment complaint treasurer Trevor Bender filed against Craig Brewer, the assistant director of campus recreation. The complaint was sent to Amanda Levit, SA director of student group affairs; and according to the team Levit did not respond. When contacted, Levit would not offer comment on the situation.

In an interview with the ASP, Bender said he and crew team President Ama Otchete were asked to meet with Brewer on Nov. 14, 2012. According to Bender and Otchete, the meeting consisted of Brewer accusing Bender as treasurer and Otchete as an e-board member of not knowing about “wrong doing with money” related to the “Friends of Albany Rowing” club, which is a non-profit organization and a completely separate entity from UAlbany Rowing.

Brewer accused Bender of not having knowledge of money going through the team and when Bender disagreed with him, Bender explained that Brewer gradually became more aggressive leading Bender to file the harassment complaint shortly after.

“I’m actually the third person to complain about Brewer and we asked to have a different staff member assigned to us and we haven’t,” Bender said.

On Dec. 7, 2012, UAlbany Rowing met with members of SA, which the team explained they initially thought the meeting was related to Bender’s complaint against Brewer. Instead, according to the team, Rushforth “went on a rant” about coaching which culminated in him asking them to no longer associate themselves with their coach, Todd Rutecki but failed to say exactly why.

UAlbany Rowing said they also learned at the meeting University Police and campus attorney Kevin Wilcox were conducting an investigation into “Friends of UAlbany Rowing” and Rutecki.

“I’m convinced that for four years they’ve been having money stolen from them (by Rutecki). The main concern is that the team is in favor of the coach because they don’t see what he’s done wrong. Unfortunately, my job isn’t to look on that minute of a level but to look on the grander scheme of things,” said Rushforth.

According to UAlbany Rowing, Rushforth and Rutecki have only met a handful of times and in their opinion his allegations are out of line. Members indicated that Rushforth would attend practices or races last year to watch his girlfriend compete.

Rushforth alleged that Rutecki reached out to alumni telling a story that Rushforth and his girlfriend had broken up, acting out of vengeance. According to Bender, when Rutecki was informed of this story, he laughed and wondered why anyone would think their relationship status was any concern of his. According to members of the team, Rushforth’s girlfriend left the crew team on her own accord, and when she attempted to come back this season, Rutecki was welcoming.

“She’s a great athlete, I think she started to feel torn after she started dating Arthur and things starting happening with Campus Rec.,” said Mary Vettre, Vice President of UAlbany Rowing.

Rushforth also claimed in the Dec. 7 meeting that SA has a lease on the boathouse and “owns” everything inside. According to Otchete, Rushforth also said he has “dealt with Todd (Rutecki) before and am tired of it.”

At the SA meeting on Feb. 27, Rushforth made mention of alcohol found on the boathouse property. Rushforth said he had photographic proof of the beer he found on a visit to the boathouse with members of the Campus Recreation and Student Success staff, specifically Mike Jaromin.

When asked about the situation, Jaromin told the ASP he didn’t know much about the situation and SA was the best route for information.

With allegations mounting against them, UAlbany Rowing stated they had only one request. They explained that they asked Levit to write out the grievances against them so they could come to the meeting prepared to defend themselves accordingly.

Rushforth emailed the team and said it was not his duty as the SA President to give such documentation. In response, Bender said to Rushforth, “…if you don’t provide us with a list of grievances before noon on the day of the meeting we are going to assume your grievances are either invalid, withdrawn and the idea of being derecognized will be withdrawn.”

“We wanted the claims in writing, just to provide us with any sort of indication that those claims are founded in something,” Bender said.

Rushforth’s response to UAlbany Rowing’s request was the following: “I’m not writing any grievances down and that’s not because they have all been satisfied in fact it’s just the opposite. It’s because it is unnecessary for me to do so. Like I said before this is an informal public meeting that will simply be a discussion between the crew team and myself. I will be able to explain all the charges against the crew team at the meeting verbally and those will be the reasons why the crew team will is up for derecognition by the senate.

“If the meeting goes well, then I will do my best to have the bill tabled so “together” both SA and the crew team can move forward. If we cannot meet in agreement then the bill will go ahead. This is not being used as a threat,

“Trevor, this is very real. This meeting is being held out of courtesy for the team, I have tried to bring it to the table and you have simply ignored me. As President of SA I am not obligated to provide any information before a meeting.

However as a member of the crew team’s e board, you are required to attend any and all meetings with the President of SA for any and all meetings just like this. The more you work with SA the less painful this process is going to be, this isn’t just a meeting for the e-board this is a meeting for the entire team.

It will be a discussion based meeting and we will talking about everything from issues to goals to aspirations for the team moving forward. I appreciate you acknowledging emails this time around and I look forward to seeing you tonight at the meeting.”

Rushforth initiated a meeting with UAlbany Rowing and scheduled it for Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. before the normally scheduled 8:30 p.m. public SA meeting. Rushforth called for the entire team to be there, but they instead sent representatives Jeff Dietz, a senior rower, and Bender to meet with Rushforth.

“It didn’t go well, he said I was unresponsive and I violated SA policy because I didn’t go to a meeting set up by the SA President,” said Bender. “I did not skip a meeting, we didn’t have a date, time or place. He brought up the alcohol charge for the first time that night, otherwise we had only heard about it through Twitter.”

Prior to this meeting, no formal claim was brought up about the alcohol being found. Rushforth also told them that once again, affiliation with Rutecki was not allowed.

The team became officially derecognized at the SA meeting on Feb. 27 after the passage of bill S.1012-0112. The original bill laid out permanent de-recognition, but at the meeting that was changed to temporary de-recognition by vote of the Senate.

Rushforth stated that the recognition could be taken away by decision of the SA President and Senate in the future, should their recognition become active again.

Photo by Lauren Mineau

Photo by Lauren Mineau 
One of two visible padlocks on the fences surrounding the UAlbany Rowing team’s boathouse which houses their equipment.


During the Feb. 27 meeting,

Rushforth also stated there are three sets of keys to the boathouse and one was “missing.” Otchete went down to the City of Albany herself and signed out the keys in Nov. 2012. The boathouse is utilized through a license with the city, a license with which no direct money is due, only a small processing fee.

Additionally, insurance and upkeep are paid yet SA does not pay any money to lease the boathouse nor do they own any equipment inside.

This past November, when the boathouse license was up for renewal and boats needed re-registration, team members explained that SA took nearly six months to complete the necessary paperwork and small processing charge.

As a result, the paperwork was not filed in time and the team was subsequently locked out of the boathouse. Upset at the situation, Otchete went to Julie St. Amour-Glass, SA director of operations, to ask what could be done to fix the problem and re-open the boathouse.

According to Otchete, she personally took the paperwork down to the City and received the keys, keeping one for herself while giving one to Rushforth and one St. Amour-Glass. The keys are signed out in Otchete’s name, making her liable for anything that may happen to them.

But those keys are nearly useless now, the fences outside the boathouse have been padlocked and the team has no access to their equipment.

Rushforth had strong words for Coach Todd Rutecki saying that the city “knows not to deal with him,” and that civil and potential criminal action may be pursued in the future.

“He needs to give back the key to the boathouse, which we lease and he needs to stop soliciting dues and stop misinterpreting the university and himself as the coach,” said Rushforth.

Rushforth stated Rutecki previously worked at RPI where he was fired before being hired at UAlbany after he had worked for the university after his departure from RPI in the nineties.

“He did coach at RPI but resigned and helped out for two years and took a better paying position and resigned when coaching at Albany the first time too. His contract ended at the end of last year and he did not renew it, that’s the bottom line. You can twist it however you want,” said Bender.

Otchete and fellow team member Keith Heesemann expressed their respect and admiration for their coach; “I feel like he’s the backbone of the team. There’s always someone behind the curtains making sure everything runs smoothly, he’d fix the boats, he knows everything about rowing. Rowing is a huge part of his life,” Otcete said.

“He’s (Rutecki) full of knowledge, he has a lot of rowing knowledge, and I am a freshman rower he taught me a lot. I came into the boat knowing nothing and by the end of two weeks I knew almost everything. If he wasn’t there I don’t think any other coach could have done that,” said Heeseman.

Currently, UAlbany Rowing is no longer recognized by SA or the University and cannot practice. Normally, the team practices six days a week with practices starting as early as 5 a.m.

“SA doesn’t recognize the dedication and they’re punishing the athletes, more than anything and that’s not their job, their job is for student success,” said Heesemann.

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