One of the largest rowing events in the world --The Head of the Charles Regatta – takes place in Boston this weekend. Public high schoolers from Concord and Bedford will be among the rowers.
Crew, or racing in narrow, four- or eight-oared boats, is an unusual sport, requiring perfect synchronicity between team members. It's also unusually expensive, with boats costing tens of thousands of dollars – not including oars and other equipment.
As a result, it's usually associated with Ivy League colleges and private prep schools, institutions with deep pockets and long rowing traditions.
But that may be changing.
“It's a huge honor to be at the Head of the Charles,” says Jay Printzlau, the head coach of Concord Crew. “It attracts good competition from all over the United States and all over the world.”
Teams enter a lottery to compete in the regatta. Depending on how they perform, they are then invited back to race again the next fall. For high school crews to win a return invitation they must beat at least half the boats in their race.
Concord Crew has competed in the Head of the Charles almost every year since 2005. Manchester Central High School has also raced at the Head of the Charles in past years, as has Bedford.
That's noteworthy because, until recently, few public schools competed – in fact, no public schools had teams.
Concord Crew started in 2000. According to Printzlau, it was the first public high school program in the state. It’s since grown beyond just Concord High, and the now independent program currently has 86 rowers from Concord, Deerfield, and Bow.
But despite the growth, the idea is the same: expanding access to a sport that Printzlau says is like no other. “Whether you're a music student or whether you, like me, have not done very well at Little League, this a fresh athletic start for most kids,” he says.
Annie DeCosta, a Concord High senior who will be racing in the Head of the Charles for the third time this weekend, says she's happy to see more high schoolers rowing. “I definitely think it's getting a lot more open to people. I know it's an expensive sport so that's kind of been a problem, but I know for us we have ways where you can join even if you can't afford it.”
Between a $450 fee for rowers who can pay, and regular fundraising, Concord Crew has bought boats and equipment. It's also moved out of the Amoskeag Boathouse in Hooksett, the home of the adult Amoskeag Rowing Club, Derryfield School's team, and Concord Crew's traditional rival, Manchester Central, to a new boathouse near downtown Concord.
The organization hasn't forgotten its roots, though.
Mutual support, says Coach Jay Printzlau, is a big part of public school rowing. “Amoskeag Rowing Club was an incubator for Concord Crew. Concord's turned around and helped other new programs as best it could. Recently for Hollis Brookline High School Crew we donated two eight-oared shells, a set of oars, and a motor for a launch.”
A lot of teams also supported Bedford High School Crew, which is now almost four years old. Manchester Central and UNH lent or donated equipment, while Concord gave advice and moral support, and Amoskeag Club members volunteered as coaches.
Bedford is still a little short on equipment, but they've already gone to the Head of the Charles the last two years.
And Coach Alaina Galvin says the team is thrilled to be heading to Boston again this weekend. “It's just pure luck,” she explains. “We have not qualified, but we just every year have put our name in for the bid, and we've gotten it.”
“We're hoping to qualify,” she adds. “Fingers crossed!”
Back in Concord, Jay Printzlau says he's happy to see Bedford's team continue to grow, along with other public high school teams around the state.
And he thinks Bedford stands a good chance of finishing in the top half this weekend. “They just started beating us this fall,” he says.
He doesn't seem bothered by that, though.
A rising tide lifts all boats.