Testing the Waters of Rowing in Northeast Ohio

Testing the Waters of Rowing in Northeast Ohio

Photos courtesy of The Foundry

Rowing might not be the first sport that comes to mind in Northeast Ohio, but there are several reasons why it’s gaining popularity among local athletes. 


What is Rowing? 

Athletes who participate in rowing, which also is called crew, will compete in various boat races, called regattas, with either two, four or eight rowers per boat, plus the coxswain. The coxswain sits at the stern and is in charge of directing his or her teammates to steer the boat. 

Athletes will practice and compete outdoors in local bodies of water in all types of weather conditions. Rowing season typically runs May through August, but athletes train at indoor facilities during the winter months. 


A Growing Sport 

Rowing has been gaining popularity in the Midwest, including Northeast Ohio, over the past two decades thanks to local efforts to make the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie cleaner and more accessible to boaters. 

“Our regional championship this year was the largest we’ve ever seen since it’s been in play for the last 20 years,” explains Joe Mariuzza, head rowing coach at Magnificat, a private all-girls high school in Rocky River that added rowing to its athletics department four years ago. 

In Northeast Ohio, less than a dozen local high schools (mostly private) offer rowing, while a few clubs in Cleveland offer it to the general public. 

In 2017, Michael and Gina Trebilcock opened The Foundry, a state-of-the-art rowing and sailing facility in Cleveland, to help get more youth involved in rowing. The Foundry offers learn-to-row programs for sixth through 12th  grade students from any school in Northeast Ohio. It also serves as the boathouse for a few local schools that offer the sport as an extracurricular activity. 


All Skill Levels Welcome 

You might think your tween or teen is too old to try a new sport, but many athletes don’t begin rowing until middle school or high school. 

“Rowing is a late entry sport,” says Laura Summers, director of programs and outreach at The Foundry Community Rowing and Sailing Center. “We get a lot of athletes in sixth grade, but we also get a lot who are juniors or seniors in high school and they have burned out of their other sport and this is a second option for them.” 

In rowing, there’s a role for everyone on the team, so unlike traditional field sports, your child won’t feel like they’re not getting enough playing time if they’re not the star athlete. 

“Rowing has all levels. No one sits on the bench; you’re always going to be involved,” explains Alyssa Trebilcock, rowing head coach at The Foundry. “I have kids on my team this year who have never played a sport before, never done anything in the weight room, never went on a run, and then I have kids who are competing for college scholarships and are operating at the top of the sport. It’s a wide spectrum. We make sure the athletes understand that every member of the team is valuable; no matter the skill level, you’re still contributing to the overall success of the team. Whether you’re in the top boat or the bottom boat, or somewhere in the middle. Everyone goes to the races and performs at the level where they’re at.”  

While rowing welcomes all skill levels, it is a high intensity sport, so having some athletic experience is helpful. 

“We see students who have done cross country, swimming, volleyball — those are the sports that are good transfer sports because they’re more aerobic-based,” explains Mariuzza. 


Mind and Body Workout 

Athletes who row will build both physical and mental endurance. While sitting in a boat looks easy, rowing is a full body sport and athletes will use all of their major muscle groups. Not only is rowing a great workout, it’s also mentally challenging and requires focus. It’s a technical sport and athletes will learn the nautical terms as well as how to perform different roles.  

“From a learning standpoint, everything is very appropriate,” Trebilcock adds. “The athlete is not going to do anything that they’re not ready to do. Your entire progression through the sport is dependent on your technical abilities.”


Learning Life Lessons 

A small circle of athletes participate in rowing in Northeast Ohio, so your child will likely be rowing among students from other towns and school districts. 

“One thing that is really cool and unique about rowing is that it’s kind of a small circle of people. You’re dealing with people from different areas and different walks of life,” Trebilcock adds. 

Your athlete will learn how to work with others on a team while developing their personal athletic goals. They’ll also learn things like work ethic, physical strength, planning ahead and being flexible. 

“The work that we do is hard work,” Trebilcock says. “It requires getting logistics in order and responding to weather conditions. If something breaks, you have to keep going. We try to be really flexible and prepare for an environment that is constantly changing and growing, and you have a responsibility to constantly change and grow.” 

If your child learns to row in Northeast Ohio, he or she will probably become more well-rounded in the sport since the region has a few unique challenges and water conditions that change daily. 

For example, the Cuyahoga River is very curvy, making it fun but a bit difficult for rowing. 

“The coxswain, which is the person who is in charge and steers the boat, gets to learn how to make turns at every practice,” explains Alan Meininghaus, head rowing coach at Saint Edward High School. “In other areas of the United States, they’ll be on rivers that are very straight or they’ll be in an open lake.”  

The other tricky part of rowing in Northeast Ohio is dealing with the freight traffic. 

“The city of Cleveland is a port, so the freighter traffic is very prominent,” Meininghaus says. “Every so often, you’ll be at a practice and you’ll see a freighter, which is as long as Terminal Tower is tall. So you have to understand it as a coach and teach your crews how to get into the safety passing zones and wait for it to go by.”  


Appealing to Higher Education Institutions 

Since rowing is such a unique sport, it can help students stand out among college admissions counselors — especially for young women. 

“Rowing is the number one most scholarship sport for female athletes — and for male athletes we see a good number of scholarships, as well,” Summers says. “It also differentiates you. It’s something special and admission counselors know the work that goes into being part of rowing team.” 

What makes rowing so special compared to other sports? The coaches say it’s the dedication and work ethic that athletes possess. 

“I think they understand that you’re doing a sport that’s fairly difficult, you’ve made the commitment, you probably have a good work ethic and you’ve done a complicated sport and completed your education,” Mariuzza says. 

If your child is interested in participating in a collegiate sport at their dream school, rowing could be the perfect opportunity. 

“Rowing opens up a lot of doors for students to go to universities that they never would have thought they would be able to go to because there’s so many varsity rowing programs in the country,” Meininghaus adds. 



What Parents Should Know

If your child is interested in rowing, there’s a few things you should consider:

  • Check out a camp or open house to “test the waters” of rowing before you commit.
  • While your child might not need previous athletic experience, they will need to pass a swimming test since rowers do not wear life jackets on the water.
  • To manage the costs of rowing sports, some programs offer payment plans or youth scholarships for athletes.

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