Hartford, East Hartford High School Students Compete For Free
November 14, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
The Riverfront Recapture rowing program is over for the season,
and the oars and long, narrow sculls have been cleaned and stored
away. But for many team members, fond memories of their experiences
on the Connecticut River linger.
"Everybody got attached to it and we we're sad when it ended," said
Bulkeley High senior Cassandra Baez, who has rowed for two seasons. "It's
just so relaxing. After school you are all stressed out and it
is something to look forward to."
In its 17th year, the program is available free to high school students
from Hartford and East Hartford. Equipment and training are provided by
Riverfront Recapture as well as transportation to the summer and fall sessions
held at Great River Park in Hartford's North Meadows.
"You don't have to be an athlete to do it; you are what you are," said
Baez, who rowed for a season until becoming a coxswain, calling out directions
to the rowers. "You can talk to people and instead of being shy, you
are more out front, more confident."
The program also brings together urban students with students from towns
such as West Hartford, Glastonbury and Berlin, who pay about $225 each season
to participate. Together, they attend rowing competitions all over New England,
including the Head of the Charles race last month in Boston. The race attracted
high school and college crews from all over the world.
"It was amazing, I had heard stories about it, but just being there
was so great," said Alysha Otte, a senior at Hartford Public High and
the Greater Hartford Math & Science Academy. "There were so many
people, and everyone there just loves the sport," she said.
For Otte, Baez and team members such as Hartford Public sophomore Anthony
Acosta, the program has introduced them to a sport they didn't know much
about. It also enabled them to make new friends from outside their neighborhoods.
"You have to concentrate. If one person messes up, then it's like
the whole boat messes up," Acosta said. "Most of the sports I
do, like swimming, you do by yourself. This one you have to work
Jordan Klein, a senior at the Watkinson School, a private school in Hartford,
has rowed for three seasons and said she experienced a lot of camaraderie
among team members.
"It's a challenge every year because we get a new batch of kids that
have different skill levels," said Klein, who like Otte is applying
to colleges that offer crew. "I think that is one of the best ways
you can grow as an athlete, by displaying your passion of what
you do to other people."
As accessible as the program is, only 11 students from Hartford are on
the team, which this year included 57 members, 30 from East Hartford. Getting
Hartford students involved has been a challenge, said program directors
Craig Mergins and Brian Wendry, but they are determined to keep at it and
are looking for help.
In previous years, faculty members from Hartford's high schools helped
with transportation or came to practices to provide encouragement.
"The key would be to get the schools to support it more. Getting a
teacher involved in the rowing program to help get students involved would
be helpful," said Mergins, who with Wendry gives rowing demonstrations
at city high schools each spring. "We are trying to break those barriers
down to get kids to understand, here is a new exciting place for
you to learn that is right there next to your neighborhood."
Betty Gunn, a physical education teacher at Hartford Public, said busy
schedules are always an issue for students and faculty.
"It's a great opportunity for these kids, but they have so many things
going on in their lives," she said. "We really try. Commitment
is very hard for these kids. They haven't always had things that
they commit to, so they don't know how to do it now."
Diane Callis, a physical education teacher and athletic faculty director
at Bulkeley, said she would love to see more involvement in the program
and agreed that faculty involvement would help.
"When you are here all day long and can talk to kids in the hallways,
go to the cafeterias and the stairways, you have more of a chance to get
kids involved," she said. "It would be good to have an adviser
or maybe have it start out as a club status. We've got some new
teachers here and maybe we can try to get someone involved."
Maureen Rodgers, the athletic director for East Hartford High School, said
the program has been a great opportunity for the students, especially when
budget cuts pose threats to school programs. East Hartford has participated
for three seasons. Students who consistently participate are eligible to
obtain points toward a letter from the athletic department.
"This was really a godsend to have this program provided for us at
no cost," she said. "I think it's a sport that not a lot of people
know about. I don't think people realize how rigorous the workout
is and the kids that do it have a lot of personal satisfaction that they
can do something this difficult and be successful."
The program will continue to be available to Hartford and East Hartford
students, said Mergins, but suburban schools have been calling, and it's
hard to turn them away.
"There is a fabulous sport here that is recognized all over New England
with college scholarship opportunities all over the place," Mergins
said. "The potential for the Hartford school system is huge."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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