Local rowing program offers students a nontraditional approach to varsity status

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Varsity rower Logan Rower, right, helps novice Joe Sandmier get situated in a boat.As students throughout the community lace up their soccer cleats and strap on football helmets and pads, a different type of athlete is preparing for a very different kind of sport. They’re rowers with Lake Oswego Community Rowing, and they are just as competitive — and just as athletic — as the kids you see on the soccer and football fields around town.

Their “field” is the Willamette River, and their training takes them not on laps around a track or field but up and down the river from their home base near Roehr Park off Foothills Drive as far north as the Sellwood Bridge and as far south as the Willamette Falls in Oregon City.Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Coach Amanda Miller shouts out instructions to her team.

The rowers practice six days a week, Monday through Saturday, for two and a half hours at time. Training runs can take the team on eight miles of river.

“Rowing is definitely a big commitment but it’s something you learn to love. It’s part of your life,” Rachel Miller said. She is a 13-year-old eighth-grader at St. Agatha Catholic School and a member of LOCR’s varsity rowing team.

Students who participate in other sports throughout the school year are able to join LOCR’s youth rowing team.

“We do accommodate multiple sports,” LOCR Administrative Director Kathryn Evans said. “If they’re doing two sports in the same season, though, that’s tough on the kid.”Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - It's a beautiful day on the Willamette River, and Cami Pontareli is enjoying it.

Be warned, however. Evans said that in the majority of cases, students who participate in other sports end up dropping that other sport in favor of rowing year round. That’s how much fun the program is, she said.

The best part is that students who row can earn a varsity letter from their home school. The program is accepted for varsity credit at West Linn and Lake Oswego high schools. Evans said that LOCR has never had trouble getting varsity letters for participants from other schools, even as far away as Vancouver.

“Because we work with schools, it’s official when (students) go to apply for college,” she said, adding that rowing tends to receive positive attention from colleges.Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Cami Pontarelli shows her form in a single scull.

Varsity rowers Maya Miller, 14, a freshman at West Linn High School, and her teammate Marissa Thomas, 14, and a freshman at Riverdale, both are looking forward to earning their varsity letter in their first year of high school and their second year on LOCR’s youth team.

They said that even though few of their peers understand their sport, it compares favorably in rigor to other high school varsity sports. Rachel, Maya and Marissa agreed that when they talk to acquaintances about their sport, most people make an instant — but incorrect — assumption.

“They think we’re dragon boats,” Rachel said.

“They don’t know how hard it is,” Maya said. “There’s a lot of technique. You have to work hard.”

Teamwork is an important part of the sport. Although some LOCR members row in single boats, the majority row in teams of two, four, six or eight.

“It’s definitely a community sport, where you have to work together,” Marissa said.

“You just need to keep in mind everybody’s skills and just work together,” Maya said. “You just try and try until you get better,” Rachel said.Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Members of the rookie boys team work out on the Willamette  River August 4.

The rowing team is unusual in that it brings together students from different high schools around the area. Students from some of those schools normally consider each other to be arch rivals in the sports arena. That’s not the case on the rowing team, however.

“It doesn’t matter. When you compete in a sport for your local high school, the other school is the rival. On our rowing club, the rival is the other club. There’s no inter-competition,” Evans said. “It’s probably the only sport where it’s able to integrate like that.”

LOCR is recruiting new youth rowers now, with learn-to-row classes offered through Lake Oswego’s parks and recreation department.Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego Community Rowing's rookie boys team take an eight-member team out on the Willamette River for a workout.

Even better, a “rookie week” is being offered Aug. 25 to 29, and it’s free. Sessions will be held 9 to 11 a.m. at the LOCR boathouse located at Charlie S. Brown Water Sports Center on the Willamette River in Roehr Park, 350 Oswego Pointe Drive, Lake Oswego.

“We basically teach people who know nothing about rowing,” Evans said. “We teach them how to handle the boats, we teach them a bunch of rowing terminology and we teach them to row.”

Rowers don’t need to invest in special equipment or clothing for practices.Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - From left, Tatum Miller, Lily Huyhn, Elisabeth Strand, Annah Shatz and Lane Duckett go through a workout August 4.

Regular workout clothes will do, although rowers should avoid anything loose or baggy, because their seats move as they row and clothing could become caught in the mechanism.

Interested students of all types are encouraged to attend the rookie week

“Rowing is not just a sport of strength. It’s a sport of strategy and technique,” Evans said.

Youth Coach Alex Cockerill emphasized that anyone can learn to row.

“You’re just looking for someone who’s interesting in being outdoors and being on a learning team,” he said. Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - From left, Tatum Miller, Lily Huyhn, Elisabeth Strand, Annah Shatz and Lane Duckett go through a workout August 4.

Both he and Evans said that height is an advantage but not a requirement. And unlike other sports, rowers spend just one year as rookies and then automatically advance to the varsity team.

“Tall people definitely have an edge, but anyone can compete,” Evans said. “That’s a distinction with rowing. You advance to varsity and you will compete. We don’t cut anyone. There’s a race for everyone.”

That doesn’t mean rowing is easy.

“I don’t know if other sports (have) practice every day,” Maya said. “In the school year we practice six days a week.”

The practice location has advantages.Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Annah Shatz works hard during a team practice.

“It’s a lot more fun being on the water than on a rowing machine,” Maya said. “You can see a lot of different areas, and sometimes you can jump in.”

“It’s definitely nice to come out after a long day of school. It’s refreshing, and you make new friends,” Marissa said.

“It’s just connections. You’re connecting with new friends and the river as you’re seeing new areas on the river,” Rachel said.

“You just keep improving,” Maya said.

“It is absolutely a team sport. There’s no individual superstars. Everyone has to pull their absolute hardest,” Evans said. “The more you practice, the better your attendance and the more you show up, the better your technique. ... From a competitive standpoint, our objective is to win at races. We don’t minimize that, by any stretch of the imagination. We’re looking to put the fastest, strongest kids in the boat, to cross the finish line first.”

In addition to the free rookie week, a parent orientation will be held 6 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at the boathouse. Parents of children who might be interested in joining the team are encouraged to attend. The fall season begins Sept. 2 with practice 3:45 to 6:15 p.m. Monday to Friday and 7:30 to 10 a.m. Saturdays. Students from ages 13 to 18 are eligible to participate, and no experience is necessary. LOCR also offers an adult rowing program. To sign up for the club or to learn more, visit

Contact Kate Hoots at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Hoots is a reporter at the Review’s sister paper, the West Linn Tidings.

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