Bringing the Sport to New Generation and New Population

West End Boys and Girls Club Hosts Rowing Clinic

By Samantha Barry – Posted on October 19, 2019

Photos by Samantha Barry

On a cold and rainy Thursday afternoon, nearly thirty ten-year-olds gathered in the gym at the West End Boys and Girls Club in Allston. Lined up with backpacks squished up against the wall, full of energy after just getting out of school they sat, jittery with anticipation as they waited for the Dutch National Team to arrive and teach them about the sport of rowing. Ten ergs were out in front of them.

For the past several years, The Head of the Charles has partnered with Community Rowing and the West End Boys and Girls Club to bring the sport of rowing to the kids of Boston. For about six weeks every summer, the Boys and Girls Club brings 10 to 12 kids down to the Charles River to learn about crew and get them in the water. This partnership continues around Head of the Charles when CRI and the HOCR give the kids a chance to learn from the elite athletes in town for the Regatta.

Unfortunately, due to Thursday’s high winds and heavy rains—which kept even the world’s best off the water—this year’s clinic was forced indoors at the Boys and Girls Club. While some of the kids were understandably disappointed about not being able to travel, the event still had them excited.

“The kids loved it, they love when guests come,” said Winston Daley, Director of Sports and Fitness at the Boys and Girls Club. “They love the energy and it’s great for them to actually meet professional rowers and for so many of them to be exposed to it. That’s what we want to do here—we want to give kids many opportunities, and expose them to as many different things as possible.”

Each kid got the chance to sit on an erg and work one-on-one with a member of the Dutch team, some even getting the opportunity to work with the coaches. They spent their time going through the rowing motions and learning about the different muscles that get used when the pros are giving it their all out on the water.

After a brief lesson, the group was split up into teams, each assigned a professional leader and an erg, to participate in a relay race. The name of the game was simple, the first erg to hit 1,000 meters won. The kids were elated and loved the added elements of teamwork and competition – both important aspects of professional rowing as well.

“It was really cool,” said Theo Keiber, 10. “I felt like I was being taught by someone really really experienced.”

Vivian Wong, 10, said that she liked it because it gave her a chance to exercise, which she noted is important when trying to stay healthy. Weian Xue, 9, said that while she enjoyed using the ergs, they also made her back hurt. The pain of performance, another important life lesson learned through rowing.

Despite the back pains and the lack of actual water, the kids seemed to pick it up quick. According to Netherlands coach, Willam Dandewiet, the kids were naturals, as if they’d been racing their whole lives.

“It’s always good to see that there is such a natural movement involved,” Dandewiet said. “Even if you’ve never done it, as with some of these kids, they’ve watched themselves and watched others and you can tell that within a few strokes they understand how it works, and that is fascinating.”

The team members felt the same and were thoroughly impressed with the way the group handled themselves on the ergs. Several members of the team had been involved in clinics before, but none quite like this.

“It was really fun to teach the kids about rowing,” said team member Obbe Dibben. “It was our first time doing a whole clinic just for kids and they are all so driven. They all want to win are picking it up really fast. I think there is some real talent here.”

Daley pointed out that most of these kids had probably never heard of the Netherlands before, let alone had the opportunity to be coached by some of the world’s top athletes. This sentiment falls in line with one of the goals of the Boys and Girls Club as a whole—exposure.

Rowing has long been a sport associated with privilege. Programs such as the partnership between the HOCR, CRI and the West End House are a counterpoint to that image, part of a concerted effort nationally to grow the sport’s base, by increasing its visibility and access.

Most of the kids that participated in the clinic had never been in a boat outside of this program, and probably never would have. While the expense and accessibility of rowing is not something likely to change overnight, programs like this, and the popularity of the Head of the Charles, are important first steps in educating new rowers and bringing them into the sport.

It’s work Daley wants to continue through the Boys and Girls club. Giving kids the opportunity for advancement can lead to successful outcomes and have a profound lasting effect on the rowing community as a whole.

“I love any opportunity to show kids new things in Boston,” Daley said. “As popular as the Head of the Charles is, if you grew up in certain places in the city you may never know about it. The Charles River is a great asset and knowing that it is part of your city and that you can go down there and row anytime, that’s an important piece. You don’t have to be the best or wealthiest person, but it is yours to have just as much as anyone else.”