March 10, 2010

This means oar

DEIRDRE FLEMING

— By

Staff Writer

ORTLAND — The seven high school youths who came to try rowing near East End Beach just wanted to learn something different.

But after three days of heaving a 200-pound shell in and out of Casco Bay, some were thinking they might pursue this new sport, even after high school.

''If this became organized, I would definitely consider this. Then I could do an intramural sport in college,'' said Julia Calder, 16, of Casco Bay High School in Portland. ''This is a unique sport, especially in this area.''

It's safe to say the volunteer-run Portland Community Rowing Association just may be onto something by offering rowing on Casco Bay, which it started doing with the high school youths on June 17.

Outside of collegiate boat clubs at Bates and Bowdoin colleges, there have not been many rowing clubs on the Maine coast. That may be due to the fact that most boat clubs across the country are situated on large rivers or lakes, not the ocean.

Ned Flint and his team of volunteer coaches hope to change that.

Sculling and sweep rowing (which involves eight rowers using one oar each) dominates other East Coast cities, but is mostly conducted on rivers.

But it is possible on Casco Bay, particularly where the new association's fleet of boats is located near Back Cove and the Presumpscot River.

It just means rowing on tidal water -- which means, naturally, dealing with the tides.

''The days it is windy, we can't row,'' Flint said of the sea's ubiquitous whitecaps.

Without a doubt, Casco Bay is a bit of an inconvenience, and perhaps even an odd location for a burgeoning feeder-rowing program. On the other hand, Maine -- even without a boat-house history like Boston, Philadelphia or New Jersey -- has somehow managed to grow Olympic rowers.

Anna Goodale of Camden, Elle Logan of Boothbay Harbor and Wyatt Allen of Portland have all won Olympic gold medals, despite not having rowed in high school here.

This fact is not lost on Flint, who founded the Portland Community Rowing Association with his wife, Hallie Gilman, and four friends who rowed in college.

''That's the amazing thing about this sport,'' volunteer coach Chris Kerber said. ''It's a sport you can win a gold medal in, and start rowing three years after high school. That was the case with Wyatt Allen (who won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics).''

This is the prevalent attitude among the program's volunteer coaches: Good things come to those who try.

Kerber, who took a job this year as the rowing coach at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., now commutes back to coach the Portland program he helped to found.

''I want to see rowing happen here. It's very, very close,'' said Kerber, dressed in his Cornell rain gear.

If the youths' third class was any indication, it will.

The seven Portland-area high schoolers were rowing in unison by the third day after picking up an oar for the first time on Day 1.

''We made a lot of progress. Once we started to degrade, he'd stop and reset us. We'd think about it,'' Calder said.

After Kerber taught them the basics of rowing and finding their rhythm -- and after a few stuck oars -- the rowers turned into a team on the third day, powering through small whitecaps.

''It was a little choppy. The wind was coming in. They did well adapting to challenging conditions,'' Kerber said.

What started as something completely new turned into a communal effort given with gusto.

The coordination part of rowing is not easy. It's not simply about flexibility, strength and balance. It's all that and perfect timing as well.

''It's really precise,'' Calder said. ''Just being more of a team, it's a little bit more difficult. When we came in today, he said timing was what we should work on. I think we did better than yesterday.''

What's more, the teens were willing to show up at 8 a.m. that Saturday -- although this clearly was not a high point, the mention of it drawing several groans.

But the best time to row in Casco Bay is right before high tide. The program's coaches, who all work full time, simply find times they can coach near high tide. Sometimes, that can mean early in the morning -- really early.

Most of the upcoming classes are at 6 a.m. or earlier.

Still, with at least four volunteer coaches who rowed in college and two who coached, the program's volunteers are committed to building a Portland-based rowing program similar to those in other East Coast cities.

''If you ... are interested to row in the fall, we should figure out how to do that, because we would love to do that,'' coach Hallie Gilman told the crew.

''You may want to give the time we row some thought,'' Gilman added, with a smile. ''I'm just laying that out there.''

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Coach Hallie Gilman of Portland gives instructions to the students from a boat in Casco Bay Friday, June 19, 2009.

Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Coaches Hallie Gilman of Portland and Ned Flint of Portland watch the students from a boat in Casco Bay Friday, June 19, 2009.

Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Coach Chris Kerber gives instructions from the coxswain position while he takes a group of local high school students out in Casco Bay Friday, June 19, 2009.

Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Coach Chris Kerber right, gives instructions from the coxswain position to L to R Katie McGeough of Deering, Julia Calder of Casco Bay High School, Katy Suslovic of Portland High School, Noah Lupica of Casco Bay High School, Lillian Worthley of Deering High School, Emma Wilson of Potland High School, Amanda Barlow of Falmouth High School and Coach Emily Demetrious of Cambridge Mass. Casco Bay Friday, June 19, 2009.

Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: L to R, Noah Lupica of Casco Bay High School, Lillian Worthley of Deering, Emma Wilson of Portland High School and Amanda Barlow of Falmouth row in Casco Bay Friday, June 19, 2009.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Coach Chris Kerber gives instructions from the coxswain position while he takes a group of local high school students out in Casco Bay Friday, June 19, 2009.



Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)