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Crew rows on despite funding turmoil

William He (he/him)
Ryder Cieri, Charlie Haug, Liam McDonough, Rylan Cranmore, Victor Agbayani, Hunter Wood, Alexander Foley and Jason Zhang row at practice on Lake Washington. The conditions were cold, but the limited wind allowed practice to continue. “We can’t just give up on getting better now. That’s not who we are,” Cranmore said.

Whether it’s during practice or at the starting line of a race, freezing temperatures and heavy rain have never stopped us and our team from rowing. On Jan. 25, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Athletics Dr. Amity Butler sent an email to the families of NSD rowers announcing that the district will be “unable to support crew as a high school sport after the 2023-24 school year.” Butler cited the NSD budget shortfall and the district being “not comfortable with the cost implications this would put on our families” as a reason for the announcement.

Senior captain Aylin Dutt (she/her) anticipated the district’s budget cuts to the rowing program because of her role as ASB Executive President.

“Crew can cost more than other sports. You wouldn’t think the buses for the season could cost up to $10,000, but that’s how much it costs because the district isn’t paying for it,” Dutt said.

The price for this season has increased over the past two years to an all-time high of $803. This is in accordance with section 2151P of NSD’s school board Policies and Procedures, which states that sports that are not sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association such as crew must be entirely funded by athletes and their families, including their coaches’ salaries.

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Over the years, Dutt has noted that the team has become more competitive, especially with its more recent achievements. Junior Neve Gelatt (she/her) was a part of the first NSD boat to ever qualify and compete in the USRowing Youth National Championships in June 2022. The boat consisted of all Inglemoor rowers, and they placed tenth in the nation in the U17 competition against private club teams, setting a standard of success within the expanding crew program.

“That experience was life-changing. None of us thought that we could ever do it, and we did it,” Gelatt said. “I think it inspired a lot of people and really changed the mindset of a lot of rowers on the team.”

Last year, the team sent another boat to the National Championships for the same event, but with three new IHS rowers. Dutt drew parallels between Inglemoor’s crew team and the “Boys in the Boat,” a book published in 2013 and film released in 2023 about the University of Washington’s underdog rowing team and their unexpected win in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since her freshman year, Inglemoor Crew has evolved from a small team to a competitor with the fastest and highest-ranking clubs.

“We’ve slowly risen in the ranks of the teams in the area, and finally people are noticing us,” Dutt said. “People never really thought we were going to be anything, and then suddenly we’re one of the top contenders in the area.”

The team’s success and the rarity of a public high school rowing team drew new students to the sport, like sophomore Rylan Cranmore (he/him), who joined last year.

“It’s a very unique school sport, especially because most schools don’t have rowing,” Cranmore said. “There’s only the clubs, the private schools and us.”

With the uncertain future of crew, underclassmen rowers such as Cranmore are stuck in a difficult position. To continue to row, they may have to join a club team, which can be challenging. Green Lake Crew and Sammamish Rowing Association are the two nearest club teams to Kenmore, but they are over 10 miles away and cost upwards of $1,000 and $2,000 per season, respectively. These costs can add up, especially as crew is typically a sport during both the fall and the spring.

Gelatt worries that rowers who are forced to switch to a club team may miss out on valuable college recruitment opportunities because it takes “a few years” for a rower to gain a spot in a competitive boat on any team.

“For those who are wanting to row in college, it is going to be tough, especially because most colleges will look at race results and those usually improve with age as you get faster,” Gelatt said. “The girls won’t have the same opportunity because they won’t be able to stay with this team for a full four years.”

Title IX is a civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination by any school that receives funding from the federal government. One effect of this is that public universities have to give an equal number of athletic scholarships to their women’s programs, often making college scholarship opportunities more accessible for female rowers.

“The football teams have so many men on it, and [the colleges] need to balance it out with female athletes,” Dutt said. “So they put a lot of money and resources into their women’s rowing teams, which is great for our girls.”

A vocal parent advocate for Inglemoor Crew, Christian Anderson (he/him), has met with the district several times since he received the initial email from Butler. Anderson said the district has been extremely helpful as students navigate alternative options to continue the sport.

“If we can get the district comfortable that we have the funding 100% covered, I think there is a pretty good chance that they extend it for a year,” Anderson said. “This gives us the time to figure out something permanent.” 

A possible permanent solution includes starting a club team through the Kenmore Public Boathouse, which is located in Rhododendron Park and currently used by the NSD crew teams. Anderson said the City of Kenmore and the George Pocock Rowing Foundation are possible financial contributors. The Pocock Foundation is based in Seattle and offers financial assistance to teams and athletes, including current rowers in the NSD program. The efforts to preserve crew’s continuation have been substantial as parents, coaches and student athletes work hard to come up with a solution.

“I would hate for people to think that crew is over, that we have no hope, and that we need to live it up this year because there’s no tomorrow,” Anderson said. “I’m confident that we’re going to have something. It’s just a matter of what.”

This story was originally published on Nordic News on March 26, 2024.