No stranger to the City of Alexandria, Mike Penn began his career in Alexandria as a teacher for the Alexandria City Public Schools in 1974, retiring in 2010. It was in the Spring of 1975 that he began his magical journey as part of the Alexandria rowing community. That spring, Mike was recruited by Coach Dennis Cordell to join the crew program coaching staff as a novice coach for the then F.C. Hammond Middle School novice program.
With no formal coaching experience, except Little League baseball, Coach Penn set out to learn all he could about this new sport, worked hard and using his “teacher” skills, began coaching his first group of novice rowers. Mike credits all the coaching staff for pitching in and helping him, but especially, Chip Lubsen. Chip had taken a year off from rowing at Cornell University to train for the Olympics. Chip was instrumental in teaching Coach Penn the basics and allowing him to grow. Truly the quick study, one year after joining the coaching staff, Coach Penn and his crew won their first NOVA Championship in 1977.
The following 26 years saw Coach Penn rising rapidly through the coaching ranks. During his first 10 years, he coached the Novice eight, Freshman eight, Junior four, Senior four and eventually, beginning in 1986, began coaching the Varsity and Second Men’s 8’s. Over the next 17 years his Varsity boats won 22 Virginia championships and one Stotesbury Championship in the Junior 8. He continued coaching the Varsity men until his retirement in 2003.
He has been honored five times as the Washington Post Coach of the Year in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1994. In 2003, his peers honored him by selecting him for the Virginia Coach of the year. He was a cofounder of the US Rowing Youth Committee and was a member for five years.
Coach Penn is one of the founders of the annual Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints. This has become the largest indoor rowing event in the country. It serves as a primary fundraiser for the Alexandria Crew Boosters. His work with Kitty Porterfield, the TCW coaching staff, the TC Williams Crew Boosters, and Alexandria Community Rowing has made this event a “must attend” for thousands of rowers every year.
In 1998, Coach Penn began working with Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC) to bring back rowing as a Fall Club sport. Coach Penn successfully revived the ODBC fall rowing program, starting with a small group of dedicated boys and girls. The program has grown into a very large, very competitive program.
Coach Penn retired from the TC Williams Crew program in 2003. With a deep sense of pride, he left a very competitive, highly ranked program, and a legacy of hard work, team spirit and fair play. His athletes have rowed and coached at all levels including collegiate, US National teams and the US Olympic teams.
He continues to serve the rowing community as a consultant and instructor in the Coaching Education Program for US Rowing. Along with Coach Stramese, he conducts numerous clinics locally and nationally and he enjoys the opportunity of sharing his knowledge and experience with coaches and colleagues.
Coach Penn’s competitive spirit lives on each day at #1 Madison Street where he helped bring TC Williams Crew into National prominence. His kind heart, wide smile and hearty laugh continue to echo.