Crew is a sport that is often times characterized as exclusive – a sport only available to the wealthy or to students who attend private schools. But there’s a new group based in Fairhaven that is allowing rowers alike, no matter age nor skill, to hit the water and give the sport a chance. The Phoenix Crew Club is opening its doors to the public and encouraging everyone to come check it out.
“We’re a newly formed club,” said Head Coach Carolyn McGonagle. “I was Head Coach of New Bedford Community Rowing for two years but they made some changes and pushed us out of there. My loyalty is with the kids, so we wanted to find some boats and a location to launch from so we could continue to do programming and get the kids out on the water.”
Phoenix Crew originally launched in Mattapoisett Harbor when the club first originated earlier in the spring before moving to their current location at 30 Beach St. in Fairhaven. However, the club accepts memberships from all neighboring towns. Current rowers fail from Westport, Dartmouth, Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester.
McGonagle’s rowing career began at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. After graduating in 1998, she coached in Boston, Savannah, Georgia and San Francisco before landing on the SouthCoast in New Bedford. With her nearly 20 years of experience in the sport, she knows the benefits the sports holds for students.
“It teaches them teamwork and also individual responsibility,” said McGonagle. You always want to be the fastest guy in the boat, but it doesn’t matter in the boat, if you can’t work with other people, you’ll slow the boat down.”
While crew is a sport that occurs on water, it’s work done inside the classroom that McGonagle also hopes to focus on at Phoenix Crew.
“Crew is a very good way to get into college, particularly for girls,” she said. “Because it’s such a niche sport, if a kid learns how to row in high school and they go to college, they’ll automatically make the team and be a collegiate athlete. For the kids that want to work hard, we’ll talk about colleges, being a recruited athlete vs. a non-recruited athlete, SAT scores, and we’ll get the kids thinking about getting into college ahead of time.”
Heading into the summer, there are currently 17 student rowers enrolled at Phoenix Rowing. The program is also open to adults who are looking for a good, low-impact workout.
“I’ve seen people in their 80’s rowing,” said McGonagle. “It’s low-impact. I’ve seen people with hip, back, knee and ankle injuries do it. It’s a great way to get a really hard work out and protect your body. It’s definitely a sport to do for life.”
For the rowers who are serious about racing, practice will be held on the Acushnet River at 5:30 am. For those looking for a more casual approach, beginners classes will be held in the evenings. As the club’s membership grows, McGonagle hopes to field both adult and student programs, as well as separate the boys and the girls into varsity and novice squads. For now, they are practicing together as a co-ed unit.
McGonagle hopes that the reputation of Crew being a wealthy sport will not scare away those interested in pursuing it. She said there are scholarships available for those who cannot afford it.
“We never turn anyone away,” she said. “If they can’t pay anything, they don’t.”
In addition to getting more members, Phoenix Crew is also focused on fundraising and securing official 501(c) (3) non-profit status. Once funding is secured, McGonagle hopes to open an indoor facility with training and classrooms available to emphasize both the importance of athleticism and academics.
For more information on Phoenix Crew, log on to phoenixcrewclub.webs.com, find them on Facebook by searching “Phoenix Crew Club,” e-mail Carolyn McGonagle at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or simply stop by their location on Beach Street in Fairhaven to check it out in person.
“We encourage everyone to come and take a look,” said McGonagle.
By Katy Fitzpatrick