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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hollis Brookline crew team has grown in numbers, success

HOLLIS – In mid-June, when spring sports awards were presented at Hollis Brookline High School, almost half of the tables emptied when the crew team was called up.

The team, composed of novice and varsity rowers, has grown more than 500 percent since its earliest days as a group of 11 students rowing out of the Independence Rowing Club in Nashua during fall 2012. ...

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HOLLIS – In mid-June, when spring sports awards were presented at Hollis Brookline High School, almost half of the tables emptied when the crew team was called up.

The team, composed of novice and varsity rowers, has grown more than 500 percent since its earliest days as a group of 11 students rowing out of the Independence Rowing Club in Nashua during fall 2012.

Now 61 athletes strong, including seven coxswains, it has its own boats, oars and transportation trailer, along with five coaches.

It is an official club at HBHS and has both a fall and a spring season; in the last two seasons, the team has grown by about 20 rowers and two coxswains.

The HBHS Crew Club that rowed out of the Independence Rowing Club had to find a new home base after the first season, so it was decided to establish a new organization called Hollis Brookline Cavaliers Crew.

Six rowers from that original IRC group made up the inaugural-season core, with 17 brand new rowers signing up in spring 2013.

A few volunteer coaches with crew experience signed on, and after discovering SAU 41’s business administrator, Eric Horton, had rowed in college, he was asked to be head coach.

Donations of equipment from other teams and money from families and corporations helped get the team on the water. “The water” turned out to be a stretch of the Nashua River accessed from the Lone Pine Hunters Club off Rideout Road in Hollis, whose members were supportive and accommodating. The proximity of the club to the school was a huge advantage in getting practice time rowing.

The first season was capped off with Riverfest, which offered boat rides, rowing opportunities, live music, food and a kayak raffle. During the publicity for this event, another coach was acquired. Mark Lewis had recently moved to the U.S. from England with his family, and the presence of a crew team only added to the draw of the community.

Lewis has many years of experience in a number of aspects of rowing, and has won several medals for clubs in England and Wales, including rowing for the Wales National Team. He also competed in the famous Head of the Charles Regatta.

The fall 2013 season started with 48 rowers and three main coaches – Eric Horton and Mark Lewis for the boys and Marcia Beckett, who has been rowing since college and won a number of medals, for the girls.

At the first race, the Water Works Regatta in Manchester, the boys Novice 8 brought home first place. They competed against six other high school crews, including well-established Concord Crew, in the first regatta on Lake Massabesic since 1882.

A week later, at the Textile River Regatta in Lowell, Mass., three boys boats and two girls boats raced – more than 700 boats entered overall. The same lineup of rowers and coxswain in the boys Novice 8 won gold from among 38 boats from established clubs.

That boat’s roster continued its great performance the week afterward with a silver from among 16 boats at the New England Regional Championships in Worcester, Mass.

That regatta once again had three boys boats and two girls boats from HB competing.

Internally, things also were progressing – floating docks were installed at Lone Pine as an Eagle Scout project, and continuing the tradition of helping out newer clubs, HB donated two boats to Souhegan’s new team.

The spring 2014 season had a late start because of the weather and water conditions at Lone Pine, but at the “indoor regatta” held in Manchester in March, one varsity rower came in second from among 17 competitors, using rowing machines.

The first real race on the water was a scrimmage with Westford, Mass., starting a full schedule of five regattas over two months: Forge Cup in Westford, Souhegan/Great Bay, Novice Challenge, Lowell Invitational, a scrimmage with Lebanon and Hanover Invitational, also known as “Sleigh Cup.”

The club’s girls won their first medal at the Sleigh Cup That season also marked the evolution from novice to varsity for about 12 rowers and two coxswains who had completed two seasons, spreading the five or six boats entered in each regatta over more skill classes.

Given the short season and the 13 new rowers and new coxswain, spring 2014 was considered a success. Helping in the effort was the addition of two better-quality eight-person boats, arranged with the help of a Hollis resident who is now rowing competitively on the U.S. Olympic team.

The season was once again finished off with Riverfest: boat rides, rowing, raffles, live music and food at Lone Pine Hunters Club on a beautiful day in June.

The club said a sad goodbye to eight seniors, four of whom will be rowing in college, and looks forward to September, when it once again takes to the river.

Several club members took advantage of local crew camps to tide them over during the summer, and about 20 experienced rowers and coxswains kept up their skills with a summer row program at Lone Pine. A new eight-person boat, new oars, new equipment storage and other improvements have been bought or are in planning stages.

Crew has become an unexpected passion for many, and with the dedication of the students and coaches, as well as the support of their families and community, it is no surprise that Hollis Brookline Cavaliers Crew has become a well-known contender on the high school sports scene.

For more information and photos of the team, visit HBCrew.org.