It wasn’t widely-publicized or known, but several local high school crew clubs had all they could do to keep themselves afloat – in a number of ways – during their 2016 fall seasons in recent months.
Late in the summer and into the fall campaign, the Londonderry High School and Pinkerton Academy crew clubs were forced to find alternate places to train and compete when their home venue of Lake Massabesic in Manchester was so hampered by drought conditions that there just wasn’t enough water to keep them there.
Thanks to the dogged persistence of former Row America-Manchester director Brenda Balenger, the LHS Lancer and Pinkerton Astro teams were able to keep right on rowing by coming up with a fine spot on the Merrimack River.
But troubles with not having enough water upon which to compete was actually the second big challenge which Balenger and the two local teams had to deal from late June onward.
The Row America program had been started by millionaire businessman Howard Winklevoss of Connecticut, whose goal was to start rowing programs across the United States to enable lots of folks – including high school students – to take part in the sport.
Everything was going extremely well through the autumn of 2014 – when the Pinkerton crew program got started up – into last fall when the Londonderry High one got rolling under the auspices of the Row America-Manchester organization and highly-committed director Balenger.
However, in late June of this year after plans for a proposed multi-million dollar rowing complex on Lake Massabesic fell through, Winklevoss announced that he was no longer interested in running all of his Row America clubs, and a number of them – including the Manchester one – were shut down. Balenger was laid off this past July 18, and the LHS, PA, and Manchester Memorial High School programs which were benefiting from being able to use top-flight equipment found themselves without any.
Stunned but unwilling to let the high school kids down, Balenger strove to find any and all rowing equipment she could so the 2016-17 season could still take place. And take place it did.
“Clubs around New England found out we’d been dropped and they wanted to know how they could help,” she said. “It was incredible, and it just shows you that the rowing community takes care of itself.”
With Row America-Manchester out of the picture, Balenger – now a volunteer and no longer a paid program director – was able to lower the fees for crew club members at the schools, which brought out yet more kids as well as all kinds of volunteers during the fall campaign.
And despite the later problems with the water shortage, the local clubs were able to participate in six regattas and continue to learn the ins and outs of their sport.
“People have really done everything to be able to keep us on the water,” said Balenger.
The former director has now started the non-profit Manchester Rowing Alliance, which is hard at work making sure that the LHS and Pinkerton teams can flourish during their forthcoming spring season and hopefully beyond.