Litchfield Hills Rowing Club Keeps Churning. By John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
The Litchfield Hills Rowing Club, formed in 1978, is as vital and active as ever. The club was founded by a group of local rowers who wanted to create and support rowing. Check that goal off. Over the years, various individuals have contributed their time, effort and money to the club, which competes in various regattas around the Northeast and beyond.
“About 2014, Kynan Reelick took over as head coach and switched us to “club” format, meaning the team could get members from all the local high schools,” explained present head coach, Drew Combs, “That meant we could compete at higher level in both sweep (the most popular competitive style in this country, one oar with two hands in pairs, fours and eights), or sculling (two oars to row with in singles), double (two rowers each two oars), and quad (four rowers each with two oars).” The club has continued with this format since then, offering rowing to adults (masters), youth (high school), and development (middle school age children) athletes.
The club has had a small group of rowing supporters who have kept the club going through its long history. “This club was one of earliest to form in the state. It is my first season, but I can tell you that over the past six years, Pete Donahue, Sue Edelstein, and Jeff Stone have held key roles on the board and done a lot to expand the club, bring in new equipment, and help expand the club’s footprint in Litchfield County. I understand from conversations that other key players over the years have included Ted Murphy, Mike Shea, Egils Bogdanovic, and Barbara Frances.” The club’s website has a list of the current members of its board of directors.
A rowing team is often known as a crew. So, you can be member of the crew, or the rowing team. There is no such thing as a “crew team” and that is a fun grammar lesson that many “misunderstand,” quipped Combs. “Both our Masters and youth rowers are co-ed and row a variety of boat sizes, as well as being capable of either rowing in a sweep style shell or in a sculling event. The spring is mostly focused on the high school races in a variety of events. This spring has been about developing skills and start the process of becoming fit and be able to physically handle the demands of a 2,000-meter race (1.2 miles).
For the club’s regattas this season, its main boats have focused on the lightweight double (boys 150 pounds and under, girls 130 pounds and under). “We have two boats for the boys and one for the girls,” said Combs. “The boys’ boats have shown strongly and the girls have been improving each regatta.”
The club’s girl’s novice quad boat (novice defines a first-year rower) has medaled at two regattas. The club’s two-rower boats have also fared well. “We have very capable boys training in both this event and in the double scull) who have raced very well,” said Combs. “We have raced other boats but these have been the team’s priority. We have attended large regattas, such as the Mercer Sprints Sweep and Scull in Mercer, N.J., and the Saratoga Invitational in Saratoga, N.Y.”
The club made a strong showing at the New England Championships in Lowell, Ma. in mid-May. In the Boys Lightweight 2X Oliver Sanchez and Tom Boger-Hawkins were sixth and Frank Anctil and Tull Patulak ninth. In the Girls Lightweight 2X Faye Devaux and Landry Langlais were eighth. In the Boys 2X Anderson Warshaw and AJ Butler were eighth. In the Boys Lightweight 1X Tull Patulak was fourth and Tom Burgess seventh. In the Boys 1X Tom Burgess was 12th. And in the Girls Novice 2X Sophie Rodriquez and Marley Burgess were first.
The high school rowing program pulls from towns around the region, including Litchfield, Morris, Goshen, Naugatuck, Bantam, and Warren.
The club’s Masters boats have not yet raced and begin their summer racing season in June. The Youth program will also continue through the summer with regattas in Connecticut, and Philadelphia. Races will continue for both programs in the fall for what are called “head races” that are three to four miles long to promote fitness.
Comb’s personal affection for crew began with his father (Chris), who managed several regattas, including the women’s sprints that were held on Lake Waramaug until 2000. “From age eight on I was helping him put in the course and drive boats when I was old enough. Through high school I was a hockey player, but my height and rowing background had me getting attention from college coaches to row. I was recruited and went to Marist College, following my sister who was a coxswain at the time for the team (a cox is lighter athlete who controls the boats and inputs the race plan and motivates the crew).”
After college, Combs took a short break from rowing before landing a job at the Kent School working in admissions, coaching hockey and rowing, and recruiting for both programs. “I learned from two amazing coaches; Matt Herr in hockey and Eric Houston in rowing. I decided to make rowing my career and moved to Boston working on my Masters (still a work in progress) and joined the staff of Northeastern University’s women’s rowing for two years before becoming novice coach at the University of Buffalo.”
Then Combs “headed south” to take over the girl’s program at Sarasota Crew, a national power in youth rowing. “I realized I was not keen on so much sun, so I came back to Connecticut where I took over Norwalk River Rowing as the women’s head coach and rose to director.” Then, he worked with Fairfield University’s women’s team and the Connecticut Boat Club, one of the premier youth women’s programs in the country before joining Litchfield this winter.
Over the years, the hard work of members and cooperation of the town of Litchfield has made it possible for the club to go from a one-bay-one-story boathouse to its current solar powered boathouse on Bantam Lake (where the club trains) built in 2009, which sports three bays and a loft area for rowing machines.
The club is also committed to making sure that adults in the area have opportunities to row. On national “Learn to Row Day”, usually in early June, area residents have a chance to try rowing, with members volunteering their time and helping to teach technique, as well as introducing individuals to the club. Those interested can then move on to “Learn to Row” clinics, usually consisting of six to eight two-hour coached sessions. After these are completed, there is the option of becoming full members.