Bill Cotter

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Rowing Club President

Frequently, those who achieve notoriety on the Buffalo sports scene are those who are called upon to maintain and perpetuate long-standing traditions of excellence, adding their own personal contributions as the situation or times demand. When Canisius High graduate and former distinguished West Side oarsman Bill Cotter was elected President of the West Side Rowing Club in 1965, he inherited an organization with a rich history that continued under his stewardship.

From its inception in 1912 until 1975, the Club produced over 200 national championship crews, between 250-300 Canadian Henley Championships, two Olympic Games crews (1936 and 1956), one Pan-American Games crew, and a 1967 St. Joseph Collegiate Institute crew that produced the unprecedented achievement of Canadian and American schoolboy championships in the same year. Over the years, the Club has sent hundreds of rowers to college on athletic scholarships, and West Siders have pulled oars for the likes of Syracuse, Penn, Cornell, and other Eastern Collegiate rowing powers.

Cotter’s greatest achievement as Club President, however, was the resurrection of the Club after a disastrous 1975 fire destroyed not only the Club’s headquarters and clubhouse on Bird Island, but most of its equipment as well. Cotter recognized the place of the West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo’s fabric of athletic and social life, and tirelessly led a fundraising effort that enabled the Club to rise from the ashes and rebuild its physical facilities. The new facilities, in use today, are widely recognized as among the most modern and functional in the nation. The facilities sit on a strip of land known as “Cotter’s Point,” in recognition of the four years of arduous legal work Cotter devoted to acquiring the site for the Club.

Significantly, the West Side Rowing Club itself not only survived the fire, but continued to flourish as the re-building of its facilities commenced. In 1978, for instance, the Club won its seventh straight title in the annual West Side Rowing Club Invitational Regatta, dominated the first Empire State Games, and sent an entry to the Henley-on-Thames Regatta in London, the most prestigious of all rowing events. The Club also placed a team at the World Youth Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Today, the West Side Rowing Club continues to turn out outstanding crews and rowers, Olympians and World Champions, both male and female, thanks to the dedication of Bill Cotter, who by steering the Club through its gravest crisis, has earned entry into another Western New York institution — the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.