William J. Rowe

Inducted: 1968
Born: 1914
Died: 1938

William J. Rowe, an Olympic hammer-throwing star, was one of the outstanding all-around weight throwers in the nation in the 1930s. He was the national A.A.U. Champion in the hammer and competed in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, where he finished fifth in the hammer with a throw of 169 feet, 6” inches, the best of any American entry. He had also won honors in discus throwing, including the national A.A.U. Title. He won numerous national, eastern, and New England titles and was named to All-America track teams in 1935 and 1936. Rowe studied at Rhode Island State College, (now the University of Rhode Island) where Fred Tootell, (RIHHOF in 1968) served as track and field coach. Tootell’s other star pupils included Henry Dreyer (RIHHOF 1968) and Irving Folwartshny. Rhode Island athletes led America in the hammer and weight throws in the mid-1930s.

At 5 ft 11 in and 175 lbs., Rowe was small for a heavy thrower. His teammate, “Shorty” Folwartshny, was 6 ft 6” tall and weighed 225 lbs. As a sophomore, Rowe missed much of the 1935 season due to an injury, but his best mark that year, 173 ft 10”, still placed him third among Americans behind Dreyer and Chester Cruikshank. He established many records in discus, 56-pound weight and shotput, and hammer events while a student. He also competed in football at Kingston and won nine letters. In the 1936 IC4A championships, Rowe placed third behind Folwartshny and Anton Kishon, throwing 162 ft 7⁄8”. He also placed fourth in his second event, the discus throw. At that year’s national championships, Rowe turned the tables and won the hammer title with a best mark of 175 ft 7”, defeating both Folwartshny and defending champion Dreyer by more than eight feet. At the Olympic Trials, held separately later that summer, Rowe threw 171 ft 9 1⁄2” and lost to Dreyer by two inches. He was picked for the all-college track team in 1935 and 1936 and the all-American track team in 1936. Rowe never won the IC4A hammer title, which in 1937 again went to Folwartshny; however, he did win that year’s IC4A discus title with a throw of 148 ft 1⁄2”.

After the Olympics, Rowe teamed up with Henry Dreyer, another URI athlete, and Donald Favor of Maine, the third American hammer thrower, to win various honors during a tour of Europe. Rowe won the hammer-throwing championship of Czechoslovakia and placed second in both the hammer and discus throwing at the German exhibition meet in Dresden. He won the hammer throw at Essen, Germany, and placed third in the hammer event at the British Empire Games in England.

Shortly after graduating from college in 1938, Rowe noticed unusual growths under both armpits, which turned out to be malignant. By the time he entered New York Hospital, the cancer had spread, and he died on April 20, 1938, at the age of 24. His former coach, Fred Tootell, eulogized him as “a little man with a big, big heart.” His 6’4″ teammate, Irving Folwartshny. said the only thing small about Rowe was his size. “Pound for pound, he was the greatest thrower this country has ever produced,” Folwartshny said. Tootell, Folwartshny, and another teammate at URI, Henry Dreyer, all served as pallbearers at Rowe’s funeral.

William Rowe was inducted into The Rhode Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968 and The University of Rhode Island Hall of Fame in 1973.

For additional reading:

  • 1936 Olympian Returns in Weight-Throwing, Press Telegram, April 23, 1936.
  • Member of U.S. Team Who Placed at Berlin in Hammer Throw Dies Here At 24. New York Times, April 21, 1938.
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