By Justin Carter
WOODBRIDGE, Va. – It is one of the oldest sports in existence and the first college sport in America. In Virginia alone, more than 39 high schools compete each season — putting aside personal accolades for a win.
And while the number of participating high schools is declining nationally, the number in Virginia has increased over the past three years.
The sport is rowing. The oars of possibility are open to any ethnicity but the problem seems to be the lack of diversity in crew (rowing).
Juxtaposed against the border of Washington, D.C., there are two African-American varsity rowers on Forest Park High School’s crew team. Their challenge: competing on a predominantly Caucasian team not only for this school, but at the Oxford boathouse that includes six other schools as well.
Forest Park junior Richard Jones, 17, provided some insight.
“I joined because I wanted to get in shape and row with my friends,” he said, adding that only two of 87 rowers on his team are African American.
Jones, however, is hopeful those numbers will improve in the near future.
“I see an increasing trend of more ethnicities joining the team,” he said. “Not only ours, but other teams also. I think there is a misjudgment, because blacks do spread to other sports.”
The lack of participation could be due to costs. Rowers pay an average $638 to compete. And while that might be a discouraging factor, Dan Schrei, 19, coach of the Garfield High School Crew, said things are starting to change.
“There is coming to be a lot of diversity and openness along racial lines,” he said. “More groups and people are trying. It may be small now but it is a start.”
Race and income should have no bearing on rowing, Schrei said.
“What we look for in a rower is just determination, strength and technique,” Schrei added.
While minority participation in rowing has been slow to unfold in Virginia, states such as New York are being proactive in trying attract diverse talent.
In Rochester, New York Cross Currents, a rowing program that seeks out minority athletes, recently celebrated five years of service. Its mission statement: Cross Currents is the premier resource and example of a collective, minority-led response that addresses the need to diversify the sport of rowing and water-related activities.
Richard Butler, the head of the program, declined comment.
Forest Park rower Jones hopes to see the day when he is not so unique on his team.
At his boathouse, Richard Jones picks up his boat with seven other rowers alongside him. He stands out as the only African American, but says he feels he has earned the right to be on the team.
Senior Eli Brennan, 18, agreed.
“I am pretty excited about the subject of diversity. And for Richard and the other multi-cultural rowers around, the more the merrier,” Brennan said.