Kevin Harris & Tulsa Women's Rowing

By Helen Tompkins | August 4, 2013

Out of the 340 Division I schools affiliated with the NCAA, the University of Tulsa has earned the exclusive title of being the institution in Division I athletics with the fewest students. Head Coach Kevin Harris of the women’s rowing team describes the advantages of being a Division I student-athlete at this private university located in northeastern Oklahoma, “The fact that we aren't drowned out by the numbers, makes the whole experience for the student-athletes even more valuable.” With a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1, the students at Tulsa receive an elite education in a personalized setting. Moreover, one in every nine students at the University of Tulsa are varsity athletes. The value placed on an exceptional learning experience and high quality education is the top priority of faculty, coaches, and student-athletes alike. Coach Harris explains, “Professors at Tulsa truly support our women as both students AND athletes.  The rowing team attracts outstanding students from across the country and our professors both acknowledge and appreciate that.” The student-athletes at the University of Tulsa are welcomed and embraced by the Tulsa community in ways that are only possible at such a small university.

Professors at Tulsa truly support our women as both students AND athletes.  The rowing team attracts outstanding students from across the country and our professors both acknowledge and appreciate that.”

Coach Harris’ experience as both a collegiate lightweight rower and coxswain helped him to develop his distinctive coaching philosophy. Harris explains, “My coxing experience informed my coaching career. As a coxswain [for the United States Naval Academy and later George Washington University], I learned to NEVER underestimate a person.” After spending the past 11 years establishing the Tulsa women’s rowing program (composed of both lightweight and openweight squads), Harris understands how to inspire his team to constantly seek new levels. New team records are already being set this summer as six Tulsa rowers competed in the U23 National Team trials. Three lightweights earned spots on the team and will represent the United States when they race in Austria this July. In the fall of 2013, Tulsa will welcome its largest rowing team in the program’s history with seventy recruited and returning rowers. When asked about his role as head coach, Harris clarifies, “I look at my job as being very holistic; not just making boats fast. My job at the University of Tulsa is to provide a competitive athletic experience that enhances the overall education of the student-athletes at the University of Tulsa. Having our student-athletes learn how to lead and how to work hard is crucial. If we can take an athlete like that and push them to their utmost, then we will win a lot of races. In doing so, we will create an environment [here] in which the student-athletes who come to Tulsa are prepared to do whatever they want [to do] when they leave.” Harris firmly asserts, “My belief is that the fastest teams are the teams who take care of all aspects of a student-athlete’s education. . .  We take care of our athletes and they take care of us.”

"My coxing experience informed my coaching career. As a coxswain [for the United States Naval Academy and later George Washington University], I learned to NEVER underestimate a person."

At Tulsa, the strength of the women’s rowing team is largely accredited to their remarkable ability to function as a family; one team of individuals working towards a common goal. Coach Harris admits, “As a team, these women hold high expectations for each other.” Plastered in bold print on the back of the Tulsa rowing gear is the team-elected mantra, “One Goal. One Team. One Family.”  The team voted on this slogan to serve as a reminder of selflessness and team commitment in all aspects of student-athlete life.

Building this sense of team character starts with recruiting class-act high school rowers. Harris simply states, “[Tulsa] is a place where good high school rowers can make a big difference for a collegiate rowing team”. As a fully-funded program, all 20 scholarships are distributed across openweights, lightweights, and even coxswains.  Coach Harris identifies the top three qualities that he looks for in a recruit as follows: “They must be smart. We’re looking for smart, athletic, women with big hearts – BIG character. We want women who are going to ascribe to our team values – we are focused on creating a good team, that starts with good people.” As a testament to these “big brain and big heart” recruiting benchmarks, the Tulsa Women’s Rowing Team took home the Conference USA Sport Academic Award for the highest GPA in a conference-sponsored sport twice in the past three years. The Women's Rowing Team has also captured the University of Tulsa’s Community Service Award 8 times in past 11 years.

“They must be smart. We’re looking for smart, athletic, women with big hearts – BIG character. We want women who are going to ascribe to our team values – we are focused on creating a good team, that starts with good people.”