Growth Spurts: Increase in Numbers Is a Matter of Age
July 12, 2012
CAMDEN, N.J. – Dan Baummer was holding tight to the metal rail in front of the grandstands on Cooper River in Camden, N.J. watching his 17-year-old son, Nigel approach the finish line.
Baummer was clearly going to win his heat in the men’s junior A single at the 2012 USRowing Club National Championships this morning. His nearest opponent was at least 10 seconds behind. Still, Dan leaned over the rail, closer to the water and shouted encouragement to his boy.
It was a good start for young Baummer, who rows for the Annapolis Rowing Club. Still, in an event that is posting a record number of entries and competitors, particularly in the junior sculling small boats, there was a long way to go. There are nine heats and a total of 45 athletes entered in the competition. But both dad and son were happy with the result and the fact that they were here.
“He started this in the spring of his freshman year of high school and he fell in love with it,” said Dan Baummer. “It’s definitely his primary sport.”
And it is for many of the youth rowers who are here this week. For the entire morning program, every heat was an event in the junior boat classes and they make up the majority of entries in the five-day regatta hosted by USRowing in conjunction with the Camden County Board of Freeholders and the Rutgers Alumni Crew- Camden
Over the past several years, the number of entries in the Club National Championships has grown. This year there are 1,426 entries in the regatta, 324 more juniors than there were on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge Tenn. last summer, an increase of 23 percent.
USRowing events manager A.J. Dominique said he was expecting about 1,100 competitors and ended up with 2,100. Some of that has to do with the location of the regatta, Dominique said. Camden is located in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic rowing district and across a bridge from Philadelphia, one of the largest rowing centers in the country. And it is also an easy drive for the clubs in the Northeast District.
The demand for this year’s racing was so large that USRowing reopened and expanded the racing schedule to 12-hour days. And, in an effort to accommodate as many rowers as possible, additional space was added to the women’s junior B single sculls, men’s junior A four, women’s junior A double sculls, women’s intermediate single sculls, men’s junior A single sculls, women’s junior A single sculls, men’s junior B single sculls and men’s junior A double sculls events.
But as is evidenced in the events that had to be expanded, one of the biggest growth areas in the regatta, and rowing in general, has been in youth rowing, particularly in smaller sculling boats, singles and doubles sculls.
“That is an area we have been working on from a larger standpoint,” Dominique said. “We’re encouraging sculling at a younger age for development purposes. So that is very encouraging and seems to be a trend that is catching hold. I’m not sure where that comes from but it’s exciting to see.”
In just the last three years the number of youth entries combined in the under 18 and under 16 categories in club nationals have gone from 307 in 2010, to 396 in 2011, to 448 this year.
There are several possible theories for the growth, including the popularity of the sport, an emphasis in developing scullers in the United States and programs making rowing available to younger athletes in the seventh and eighth grades. These are athletes who would traditionally participate in sports recognized as more mainstream, soccer, baseball, basketball, track and field, and tennis.
Where before rowers had to wait until high school to begin rowing and were more involved in others sports, the accessibility of the sport to the younger ages is resulting in kids and families choosing rowing earlier and making it their primary high school sport and competing year round.
“Junior rowing continues to become popular,” said USRowing CEO, Glenn Merry. “As it becomes more of a mainstream sport, parents who are familiar with other sports that have travel teams and summer club seasons like softball or soccer, are looking to replicate this process in their rowing children. This leads to an increase in summer programs. Couple this with the return of clubs to the Northeast corridor and you have driving distance for a serious summer event.”
While Baummer didn’t start rowing until high school, he attended an indoor rowing competition when he was 10, and joined the sport when he could in high school. “This is definitely my primary sport. From the first time I sat on an erg, I was in love with it,” he said.
Most of his teammates focus on sweep rowing in big boats, but Baummer makes sure he stays on the water during the summer in sculling boats and is hoping his experience leads to a Division I rowing program and, someday, the U.S. national team.
If Baummer had lived closer to the Sagamore Rowing Association on Long Island, New York, he may have gotten started even sooner. Head coach Troy Smith has been with the program for over ten years and has seen the crew jump in size in five years from teams of 25 to crews of up to 60 who participate year round.
One of the reasons for this growth is the middle school program Sagamore began running several seasons ago. The interesting thing about that to Smith is he didn’t start them to recruit athletes, he was accommodating them.
“We’ve been able, through running regattas, to generate a little more income and have been able to get more equipment and start a seventh and eight grade program,” he said. “And I think we’ve always been pretty good at training new rowers. I can see that has been a pretty big growth in junior Bs and I also think just in rowing overall.”
Of the middle school athletes, Smith says they came to the program.
“I wasn’t really targeting them, I was actually just filling the interest. More than me wanting to target them they were coming to me and saying I want to row. And I had enough people doing that so I said let’s start some seventh and eighth grade programs."
Smith said he is not sure if this will lead to more interest and continued growth in the sport but he is seeing the level of talent and ability increase as a result.
“It’s still too early to tell,” he said. “But I am definitely getting some kids who are going to be better because they started earlier.”
Racing continues tomorrow morning with more heats. Semifinals begin tomorrow afternoon.
For event information and a schedule of the 2012 USRowing Club National Championships, visit: http://www.usrowing.org/Events/ClubNationals.aspx
Live streaming of the finals can be seen at: http://www.ustream.tv/usrowing
Following the event, video clips can be purchased at http://www.usrowing.org/Multimedia/VideoDownloads.asp
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Ed Moran, photos by Monica Worsley