Yale Bulletin and Calendar

July 25, 2003|Volume 31, Number 33|Five-Week Issue















Teenagers in the Learn to Row program master the art of rowing in unison as they paddle along the Housatonic River near Yale's Gilder Boathouse.

IN FOCUS: Community Rowing Program

While rowing down the river, youngsters develop team spirit

It's just past 8 a.m. on a hazy July morning, and eight 10-year-old children are putting their muscles to work on a pontoon-style boat called a training barge, which is traveling steadily down the Housatonic River.

"1-2-3-4-5-catch," bellows instructor Holly Yacko, giving the signal for the youngsters to drop their oars in the water.

The children stretch backward in unison and dip the blades of their oars, concentrating fiercely to maintain a rhythm with their peers.

This is only their third day on the river, but the youngsters have already learned the fundamentals of rowing and the importance of working as a team. They paddle in sync on the eight-seat training barge, getting pointers and encouragement from Yacko, a recent Skidmore College graduate and an administrative assistant for the Yale Community Rowing Program, and another instructor, Kevin Haley of Ithaca College.

"You have to cooperate with the person in front of you, so you must have good timing," says Lindsay Evans, a participant in the Yale Community Rowing Program. "But once you get the hang of it, it's really not that hard."

Evans, a resident of Shelton, is one of the 32 youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 in the week-long "Learn to Row" program at Yale's Gilder Boathouse in Derby. The summer rowing instruction is offered as part of the year-round Yale Community Rowing Program, which provides children and adults from Greater New Haven and Lower Naugatuck Valley towns an opportunity to learn the sport. Since it began five years ago, the program has introduced hundreds of youngsters to rowing at no cost to the participants, many of whom have developed a passion for the activity, according to Community Rowing director Jamie Snider.

"In our Learn to Row program, we teach the rudimentary skills -- the mechanics of rowing, such as the stroke, the sequence of arms, back and legs, how to travel up the slide [in the boats' sliding seats] and the catch [the placement of the oar in the water]," says Snider, who is also an assistant heavyweight crew coach at Yale. "The mechanics are easy by yourself; the challenge is coaching the kids how to do it together. It is that teamwork that makes the sport so enjoyable, and developing that skill is something that can help them in whatever they do in life."

In addition to Learn to Row sessions for novices, Yale also offers a summer-long Junior Rowing Club through which Learn to Row graduates can become more proficient, and a one-week session for adults (there is a $25 fee for the adult classes). Throughout the summer months, rowing classes are offered to other groups in the region as well, including the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP), which draw hundreds of New Haven-area children and teens to Yale facilities over the summer for athletic instruction and character-building activities.

Other groups that have taken advantage of the summer rowing program include the Derby Recreation Center, the Boys & Girls Club of Shelton, Amistad Academy in New Haven (a Fair Haven middle school), the Yale Athletic Department's Summer Sports Camps, the American School for the Deaf and Connecticut Special Olympics athletes. On occasion, business or corporate groups also have enjoyed summer rowing lessons through the program at Yale's boathouse.

Nine college students who are experienced rowers teach the summer classes, which begin in the early morning hours (some as early as 6:30 a.m.). Among these are Yale College students Chris Heller and Amanda Kendrick. Summer lifeguard Kathryn Rock, a student at the University of New Hampshire, is also on hand for the lessons.

"We make safety our number-one priority," notes Snider, pointing out that all of the boats used for lessons are equipped with life preservers and walkie-talkies.

The groups in the Learn to Row program develop a team identity for their week of instruction, with each taking on the name of boat in which they practice, such as "Enterprise," "Bulldog" and "Rocket 8."

"We do various activities to help the kids develop a team spirit," says Snider. "At the end of every class, for example, the kids do a group cheer." On the last day of their lessons, he adds, the children -- wearing new racing t-shirts -- compete against other teams in a short race with parents and other guests in attendance.

The Community Rowing Program was established in the fall of 1999 by father and daughter Richard Gilder '54 and Ginny Gilder '79, a former Yale crew member and Olympic Silver Medalist in rowing. They made a $4 million gift to Yale for the construction of the Gilder Boathouse, which was completed in 2000. The program is sponsored by two endowed funds at Yale -- Max Belding Community Rowing and Rowing for Youth Program -- and by the Brownington Foundation and the Katharine Matthies Foundation.

In its first year, the Community Rowing Program served only youth in the summer NYSP, and then only as an indoor activity at Yale's Payne Whitney Gym. It has since evolved into a year-round program that offers eight-week developmental clinics in winter for high school students using the gym's indoor rowing equipment, and an outdoor nine-week spring program for high school students at the Gilder Boathouse. Spaces in all these sessions fill up very quickly, testifying to the popularity of the sport among youngsters, says Snider. The Junior Rowing Club, for youngsters who are interested in rowing at a competitive level, is new this year.

The young rowers in the various programs benefit from the state-of-the-art rowing equipment at the boathouse and in Yale's gym, Snider says. Once novice rowers in the summer programs have developed their skills in the training barges, they are able to row in the two racing shells owned by Yale Community Rowing.

"We now have been operating long enough to have kids who started in our Learn to Row program who are now going off to college with the intention of competing in the sport," Snider says.

In addition to the children's love of the sport, Snider attributes their quick development as rowers to his experienced staff, which includes many college rowers. Several of the coaches, including Yacko and Haley, have worked for more than one season at the camp.

"The coaching staff is the heart of the program," he says. "They love the sport and do an excellent job working with kids. A personal thrill for me has been to watch these young coaches develop and gain self-confidence in their teaching. They are learning just as much as the kids, and for some, it is a jump start into coaching careers."

Two 16-year-old friends from Amity High School say that they signed up for the Learn to Row program because they had an inkling that rowing would be a fun sport to learn. Neither had rowed before participating in Yale's program this summer, and they are glad they have gained some experience.

"It's a real workout," admits Hailey Wood, showing off a few blisters she developed from several days of rowing.

"It is strenuous but it's also fun," agrees her friend, Lauren Berluti. "I'm definitely interested in becoming a rower."

Thirteen-year-old Peter Tomlinson of Seymour, who is now in his second year of the Learn to Row program, says his power as a rower has increased dramatically through his lessons, and he now aspires to row competitively at the collegiate level. He says he wouldn't mind someday attending Yale, where he could enhance his skills at the very boathouse where he first discovered his interest in the sport.

"That would really be the ultimate for us," says Snider. "To have a local child come to us, learn how to row right here on the Housatonic, and then get accepted at Yale."

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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