Teach­ing the next wave of row­ers

Youths as young as 10 years old learn to row at three clubs in Ni­a­gara Re­gion

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Sports - VIC­TO­RIA NI­CO­LAOU

De­spite row­ing on dif­fer­ent wa­ters, and the friendly com­pe­ti­tion be­tween ath­letes, three Ni­a­gara Re­gion row­ing clubs are all in the same boat when it comes to their learn-to-row pro­grams.

The goal of Ni­a­gara Falls Row­ing Club, Wel­land’s South Ni­a­gara Row­ing Club (SNRC) and St. Catharines Row­ing Club is to in­tro­duce youths aged 10 to 16 to the flat­wa­ter sport be­fore they en­ter high school.

“The ma­jor­ity hap­pens at the high school level, and so we try to get them a lit­tle bit ori­ented to the sport and in­tro­duce the sport a few years be­fore that,” said Tony Arcuri, pres­i­dent of the Ni­a­gara Falls club.

“They learn what the sport is about. They see another sport be­sides soc­cer or bas­ket­ball or base­ball.”

Through­out the sum­mer, the clubs host ju­nior row­ing sum­mer camps to teach stu­dents the ba­sic row­ing stroke, wa­ter safety, boathandli­ng and proper tech­nique.

SNRC pres­i­dent Kevin Fuller said the club’s ideal sce­nario is to de­velop young ath­letes be­fore they join a com­pet­i­tive team.

“They’re learn­ing the ba­sics of the row­ing stroke, gen­eral skills and stuff to row the boat prior to them join­ing their school team,” he said.

Camp par­tic­i­pants are re­quired to pass a swim­ming as­sess­ment be­fore reg­is­ter­ing for classes. The test is ad­min­is­tered through the clubs or a lo­cal YMCA by qual­i­fied life­guards.

Arcuri said swim re­quire­ments have be­come more of a pri­or­ity in re­cent years with clubs want­ing to make sure young ath­letes are com­fort­able in the wa­ter.

The req­ui­site swim­ming skills are min­i­mal, but the clubs want to make sure row­ers are equipped with ba­sic com­pe­tence in the wa­ter.

For SNRC in par­tic­u­lar, the swim test en­sures ath­letes can tread wa­ter and swim at least 50 me­tres.

“In our case then you can be any­where in the wa­ter and be able to reach shore with our wa­ter­way,” Fuller said. “Our wa­ter­way, in the worst case, is 100 me­tres wide so 50 me­tres is the fur­thest you’d be from the shore.”

Mar­ion Markar­ian, di­rec­tor of youth row­ing at the St. Catharines club, said its younger row­ers wear a “ba­nana belt style life pre­server” at all times for safety.

“(The lifebelt) goes around their waist so their arms and legs aren’t en­cum­bered in any way so they can row,” Markar­ian said. “So when they do their swim­ming test, they do it with the ba­nana belt on there’s no way they can go un­der.”

In ad­di­tion to the swim­ming test, the clubs have coach boats and safety boats on the wa­ter with the youth pro­grams should any­thing hap­pen.

For all three clubs, an im­por­tant part of their youth pro­gram is about giv­ing back. Ath­letes who once participat­ed in the camps now vol­un­teer or work at the club, help­ing the next wave of row­ers learn the sport.

Arcuri, who re­tired in June after 30 years teach­ing at Saint Paul Catholic High School, had a lead­ing role in cre­at­ing and de­vel­op­ing the row­ing pro­gram at Saint Paul, as well as other high schools in Ni­a­gara Falls.

He knows from ex­pe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits of pay­ing it for­ward.

“Some­one gave to you when you were learn­ing, and now you can give back to some­one else,” Arcuri said. “That’s the philosophy we try to in­stil in the club, so it starts to be­come a life les­son as well as a row­ing les­son now. Some­thing we take pride in.”

Fuller said learn­ing from peo­ple who went through the pro­gram is not only ben­e­fi­cial to learn-to-row par­tic­i­pants, but it also pro­vides more ex­pe­ri­enced high school row­ers with an op­por­tu­nity to be in lead­er­ship and men­tor­ship roles.

“I think (help­ing youth row­ers) gives them a sense of ac­com­plish­ment and pride in see­ing other ath­letes achieve based on what they have taught them, so it’s a nice cir­cle,” he said. “I think it’s im­por­tant for them to give back and to show the up-and-com­ing ath­letes they’re role mod­els.”

Ni­a­gara Falls Row­ing Club will host its fi­nal youth ses­sion Aug. 12 to 23, week­days 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. In Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, it will in­tro­duce week­end camps.

SNRC will hold its fi­nal sum­mer camp week­days 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Aug. 12 to 23.

Fuller said the club will run a week­end learn-to-row pro­gram in the fall, act­ing as an ac­cel­er­ated sum­mer camp for Grade 9 stu­dents look­ing to join their school row­ing team in the win­ter or next spring.

St. Catharines Row­ing Club’s fi­nal learn-to-row ses­sion of the sum­mer will be 9 a.m. un­til noon week­days, also Aug.12 to 23.

“Some­one gave to you when you were learn­ing, and now you can give back to some­one else.” TONY ARCURI Ni­a­gara Falls Row­ing Club pres­i­dent

BERND FRANKE TORSTAR

Abi Be­nard, front, and Daniella Mur­doch, both 13, prac­tise in a dou­bles scull in South Ni­a­gara Row­ing Club’s learn-to-row pro­gram.

Kevin Fuller

Tony Arcuri

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