By Peter Lynch
Pockets of ice rested on the still Potomac water beside the snow-lined banks on the first weekend in February, and most high school students were asleep in bed, but not the Woodrow Wilson High School Crew team. They were traveling across the icy river to attend the Erg Sprint Competition at TC Williams High School at 8 a.m. on Saturday, February 2nd.
In a crowded gym, rowers of all ages from across the region, competed on ergo-meters —ergs for short — that simulate the act of rowing. Competitors were encouraged to push themselves to the limit, and the only crew team in the DCPS did just that.
Founded in 1985, Wilson Crew competes in the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Rowing Association. Weather permitting, the team — close to one hundred co-ed students along with a middle school feeder program — rows out of the Thompson Boathouse of Georgetown. Students from other public schools are eligible to row for Wilson, yet currently only two students row from other DCPS schools.
“The program has come a long way, from a scrappy team to a much more professional, consistent organization…with a winning mindset,” said Chris Rickard, a Wilson alum and crew team member from the class of 2011, who later rowed for Tufts University. Rickard now directs the entire Wilson program.
It’s not an inexpensive production, yet the community is making it happen. A typical rowing season might cost around $200,000, yet only a couple of thousand of that budget comes from DCPS coffers. Each rower is responsible for fundraising four hundred dollars a season, requiring added dedication from the team members. Fundraisers, wreath sales, GoFundMe pages, Chipotle drives, and generous donors are the lifeblood of the team.
Each rower and their family is also responsible for the upkeep and continuity of the program, with parents playing an essential role in facilitating participation.
“There is such a strong sense of community,” explained Michelle Koerner, co-president of the Wilson Crew boosters, and mother to both a current and former Lady Tiger rower. And that support for the difficult commitments, plus so many 5:30 a.m. practices, are now bearing fruit for Wilson’s rowers.
At the early February competition, senior Wilson rower Dean Gwadz took first place among over 70 other participants in the junior men’s 2000 meter sprint, just 8 meters short of the all time record, and teammate Sebastian Murell placed third.
At day’s end, the Wilson team brought ten total medals back across the river. Tenlea Raddack earned gold on the women’s side in the junior 2000 meter; Claire Wigglesworth, Jonah McKearn, and Rory Hagerty also brought home metal.
After this successful test at the Erg Sprints, the Wilson team is focused on the Spring.
“This is going to be really great year for us,” said Coach Rickard, “we’re looking to improve and build.”