After years of being rootless, crew team finds a home

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After years of being rootless, crew team finds a home

Photo courtesy of Westford Community Rowing.

Photo courtesy of Westford Community Rowing.

Photo courtesy of Westford Community Rowing.

Photo courtesy of Westford Community Rowing.

Varshini Ramanathan, Co-Managing Editor

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A sudden decision by Westford’s Parks and Recreation Department to discontinue support for the Westford-Littleton Community Crew in November turned out to be a blessing in disguise: after months of uncertainty, Westford Academy took on crew as a varsity sport and gave the team some long-sought stability.

Previously, high-schoolers at Westford Academy and other schools such as Lawrence Academy and Littleton High School who were interested in rowing participated in Westford-Littleton Community Crew, which was not affiliated with any school but was instead supported by the nonprofit Friends of Westford Community Rowing and the Westford Parks and Recreation Department. When Town Manager Jodi Ross found a $70,000 deficit in the crew team’s budget, she made the decision to discontinue the program and lay off two full-time coaches, putting the program in jeopardy.

Although Ross expressed support for finding a future for the team, students were shocked and angered that this change had been made without any prior warning and without any input from the rowers themselves.

“It was very frustrating. I feel like there was a lapse in judgement,” said senior Boys’ Crew Captain Ian Moffet. 

As students scrambled to find a way to keep their team afloat, Moffet and a handful of other students approached Principal James Antonelli to help find a solution. Considering that crew is an expensive sport with a lot of logistical difficulties that most school sports do not have, Moffet worried that Antonelli would be wary of taking on the sport at WA. However, Antonelli was on board right away and even offered to be a temporary coach.

“The main difficulty, I thought, would be convincing people that [crew] would be something the high school was capable of supporting, but that was flushed immediately when I talked to Mr. Antonelli. I guess he’d been wanting to do it for a long time but didn’t want to step on our toes,” Moffet said. 

From there, though support from administration remained enthusiastic, the team struggled to find a coach throughout the winter. The crew team has been been unable to keep the same coaches for more than a season or two for several years now, but the fact that the problem was a familiar one did not make it any easier to solve.  After a few meetings passed with Athletic Director Adam Gagne and the spring sports season approached, many students resigned themselves to the fact that even with school support the team would not be running this season and several left to join other teams.

However, at the end of March, things began to fall into place. Westford native Ian Coveney and his colleague Julie Warren at Gentle Giant Moving Company offered to take on the position. The team began work almost a month behind schedule at the beginning of the most competitive rowing season of the year, but things are looking up. Warren, who has experience starting programs from scratch, explains that because the crew team already has access to boats and other equipment, many of the major obstacles surrounding starting a crew team have already been surmounted.

What was really interesting about Westford was that a lot of the pieces of the program were already in place […] it’s been a lot of logistical things to work out because the school is new to the program and rowing is different than your average ball sport, but overall, it’s come together really well,” Warren said.

Now, the team’s main goal is to create stability and establish themselves looking past the spring season. The team’s current instability is due in part to the recent upheaval and transition to WA, which caused enrollment numbers this spring to be very low, as well as the fact that many left when the future of the team was uncertain. However, the fluctuation and constant changes that have become natural to the crew program have also made it difficult for the team to become fully established and expand over the years.

“It’s been tough to keep a team going and happy all the time,” Moffet said. 

According to Moffet, being affiliated with the school is key to creating this stability, in part because now they are under Westford Academy’s name and in part because they have the chance to reach out to the student body to boost enrollment.

Warren believes that stability will come with size, and that expanding the number of rowers will foster a better learning environment.

“The more competition you have within your team, like the bigger you can grow, the more and more you can learn from each other, and then you can complete better,” Warren said. 

In the end, the crew team’s aspirations have their foundation in their newfound stable center — or, in Moffet’s words, in their newfound home.

“I like think of us as a nomadic team, but now that we’ve sort of found a home, I hope that it stabilizes, [and] that it can grow in size,” he said.