Longtime Volunteer Honored by US Rowing


By Elena Castriota – Posted on October 25, 2016

She will tell you she is just one of 1400 volunteers, working together to make the Head of the Charles a seamless, smooth-running operation. Longtime Regatta officials and volunteers will tell you she is the reason those 1400 volunteers work so smoothly together.

Polly Whiteside, currently head of umpire logistics, who has done practically everything in her 29 years as a Regatta volunteer, has had that long service recognized by U.S. Rowing. She has been named winner of the 2016 Clayton W. Chapman Award, honoring work in “behind-the-scene administrative roles that have previously gone unrecognized.” Unrecognized perhaps by U.S. Rowing, but not by the people Polly Whiteside has worked with over three decades at the Head of the Charles.

“U.S. Rowing could not have picked a more deserving person or a universally loved person,” said Kitty Grubb, a retired U.S. Rowing umpire, who nominated Whiteside for the Chapman award. “For decades, Polly has been glorious to and for the sport of rowing, but never gotten the glory. It’s about time!”

As the daughter of a girl scout leader, Whiteside has always had a knack for organization and a love of volunteering. In 1988, a friend of hers suggested that the pair volunteer for the regatta back when it was a Sunday-only event with a very small staff—unrecognizable to the Regatta we have today.

The first thing she noticed volunteering was that the registration was a disaster. The lines were excessively long and wildly disorganized, understandable given the lack of volunteer leadership staff. So, in her take-charge way, the next year Whiteside took over and streamlined the process by turning the single line that all the rowers would wait in into 16 one-stop registration stations. “My plan was to have no wait,” she explained, “That’s the power of throwing volunteers at things.”

Recruiting and managing the right people has been at the heart of Whiteside’s work with the Head of the Charles. It starts with finding the right people. “Not having children myself, I’m out there volunteering at all kinds of things,” said Whiteside, “and I have a great pool of people on which to call on for volunteers.”

It continues with managing those volunteers. Back in her early days with registration, she assigned volunteers to work in pairs that she thought would get along well. One pairing got along so well that they married, and today their child is a Regatta volunteer.

“She is very astute in knowing what will work and blend,” Grubb said, “Some people are a good decorator with colors or fabrics, she’s a really good decorator with people, with knowing them and knowing how they’ll work.”

“She focuses not only on the moment but on the person in the moment, you really feel like she’s your best friend,” Grubb explained, “You feel an affinity to her and her warmth and her talent.”

Over the years Whiteside has moved from registration to sales to dock operations to overseeing all of the Regatta’s volunteers. Today she is in charge of umpire logistics, which basically means making sure 125 umpires working the Regatta have everything they need to get to and do their jobs. She is responsible for anything from lodging, feeding, transporting the umpires to and from their stations, planning schedules and handling inventory lists.

“Like a bank, any good operation has backroom. The purpose of the backroom is to improve the signal-to-noise ratio,” said Mal Watlington, the Regatta’s retired chief umpire, “What Polly has managed to do in many situations is to remove the noise from the experience. Umpires find themselves asking, ‘How do you do this?’” According to Watlington and Laura Kunkemueller, the current Chief of Umpires, the three essential tiers of umpiring at the regatta are safety, fairness and athlete experience. “What Polly does is enable us to focus on those things,” said Kunkemueller, “We can then be very athlete-focused because we have the support of Polly.”

In order to provide this level of organization and attention to detail, Whiteside has the regatta in mind at all times—it’s a year-long process for her.

“When you have a passion, it’s not a job anymore, it’s just a passion,” she said.

“There’s so much smartness here,” she says of the Regatta and its people. “You buzz, you crackle with creativity. Every year it gets better at a faster rate. I love the family we have here.”



Volunteer for HOCR

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Make this year’s Head Of The Charles® a success. There are many opportunities to get involved over race weekend and before.