by Charlie Oliver
If you read Wind in the Willows growing up you know that, like Rat , “there is nothing- absolutely nothing – half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”. For the past 19 years kids ages 10-14 have agreed with Rat as they learn to row on the Christina River in ROW FOR IT!’s three week summer rowing camps.
ROW FOR IT! began when two young African-American boys rode their bikes down to the Wilmington Rowing Center‘s old metal Boathouse on the Christina River. Dappled sunlight penetrated the boathouse on a warm summer day as they quietly walked inside. Faith Pizor, co-founder of ROW FOR IT! with her late husband, Gordon Pizor, watched from the boathouse as the boys carefully, reverently, ran their hands along the sides of the sleek 60’ racing shells. Suddenly aware that she was watching them, one of the boys, his hand still on the boat turned and asked in hushed tones, “I guess this is something that we could never do?”
From that chance meeting was born the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association’s (WYRA) summer ROW FOR IT! (RFI!) camps, dedicated to diversifying the sport of rowing and introducing the non-traditional sport of rowing to area youngsters including minority youth. RFI! has offered three week rowing camps to over two thousand rowers, many considered “at risk” because of the neighborhoods in which they reside or because of a fragile family structure.
What makes ROW FOR IT! so successful and unique is the integration of kids from the inner city and affluent suburban communities. Kids from Southbridge, the “Hilltop”, Claymont, Greenville, Hockessin, Avondale, and Unionville in Pennsylvania, many of whom have never interacted with kids different than themselves, find that they are rowing together in a boat and enjoying it. They learn very quickly that in order to make their boat move efficiently down the river they all have to pull together.
Rowers enroll in either the 10-12 noon morning camp session or the 1-3 pm afternoon session. Camp Director and Head Coach, Suzanne van Fleet, explains that for young kids nearly two hours on the water in the hot sun is really enough for the day. Each day arriving campers go for a short run to a neighboring park where they stretch, play a few games and get to know one another. For the first day or two rowers work-out indoors on Concept II ergometers (rowing machines) and then move into WYRA’s indoor rowing tanks. “The tanks are really amazing,” Van Fleet said. “Our kids learn how to handle an oar and basic rowing technique long before they go on the water. Kids feel so much more secure and comfortable after time in the rowing tanks. It’s really an invaluable teaching tool.”
Back at the Boathouse each day after their park visit, campers are assigned boats and, with their coaches and mentors who are with them throughout camp, they learn the proper way to get in a boat and shove off from the dock, all in unison. Skilled coaches in motorized launches accompany each boat during the entire time the boats are on the water. Van Fleet remarked that she’s amazed how quickly most kids learn to row. At the end of the three week camp there is a cook-out and races for rowers, family and friends.
“ROW FOR IT! is an expensive camp to run”, Van Fleet points out, “because we are on the water and our campers are young we have a high staff to camper ratio. Inner city kids and campers coming from city community centers and camps do not pay to row.” ROW FOR IT! welcomes sponsors and donors.
Pizor, who is the Executive Director of WYRA and RFI!, said a good number of kids return to RFI! each summer. As a result of requests for camps for older kids, Rowing 101, a 9-3pm five day mini-camp for kids 14-18 was started ten years ago. This years first Rowing 101 camp was held June 20-24 and a second camp is scheduled for August 1-5.
In September, Let’s Row!, a three day a week rowing program for 10-13 year olds who want to continue to row in the fall and spring, will start at the WYRA Boathouse. Parents, many of whose kids loved ROW FOR IT! , have asked for a non-competitive rowing program that would bridge the gap for younger rowers between summer ROW FOR IT! camps and WYRA’s more competitive 5 and 6 day a week fall and spring WYRA crew.
“Let’s Row! will give kids the opportunity to hone their rowing technique on the water and in our rowing tanks while having fun,” Pizor said. “It’s a perfect introduction to rowing for many kids and an opportunity to continue rowing for younger kids who have fallen in love with the sport.”
After all, “there is nothing – absolutely nothing, half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
ROW FOR IT! camp – Monday –Thursday; morning session 10-12; afternoon session 1-3pm
June 27-July 14 (no camp July 4). Ages 10-14
Rowing 101- August 1-5. Ages 14-18
“Let’s Row” 3 day a week program starts in September. Ages 10-14
For more information go to www.wyra.org