By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — Nine months ago, Mayor Scott W. Lang stood in front of a boathouse on the Charles River in Brighton and spoke about his plan to bring rowing to the Acushnet River.
That plan is now a reality: About 30 teenagers and 50 adults participated this summer in a pilot program run by New Bedford Community Rowing, and the organization will launch competitive rowing teams this fall.
“We’ve got lots of big plans,” said Carolyn McGonagle, director of the New Bedford organization, which is an offshoot of Brighton-based Community Rowing Inc.
“Quite honestly, it’s been a dream. … (Lang) had a vision and got all the right people to support this idea.”
McGonagle was joined Thursday night by Lang, CRI Executive Director Bruce Smith and almost 100 other people, including several luminaries of the rowing world, at the newly-opened Buzzards Bay Center on Front Street to celebrate the official kick-off of New Bedford Community Rowing.
“Rowing is very much alive and playing its unique role in developing the character of those who take up the oar,” said Thomas E. Weil, the event’s keynote speaker and a trustee of the National Rowing Foundation.
“You couldn’t ask for a better partner in business or life than a rower.”
The number of participants in the summer sessions exceeded the organization’s target, but McGonagle said she would like to see even more teenagers involved in the program.
Two students at New Bedford High School who participated in the summer program — Patryk Backiel and Danielle Lopez — spoke at Thursday night’s event.
“At first we struggled,” said Patryk, 18 and a senior at the high school. “But eventually … we really got to know each other. We row together; we row as one.”
Danielle, 16, said when McGonagle first came to New Bedford High School to recruit participants, she didn’t think much of it.
But at the urging of friends, she joined in the summer sessions.
“I thought, probably a good way to keep myself out of trouble, being a teenager,” she said.
Also, Danielle added, “I want to go to Harvard, and maybe this will help me get there.”
Both Patryk and Danielle plan to continue rowing this fall.
Now that school is back in session, McGonagle will start recruiting participants from New Bedford High School and Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School as well as other area high schools.
The number of students currently enrolled for the fall sessions is a little low, said McGonagle, but she is hopeful that additional students will show up once the rowing classes start.
Beyond developing a community of rowers in the city, the organization is also looking to bring outside rowing teams to New Bedford by hosting a regatta in early October.
The one-day event will feature a range of races for different boat sizes and age groups, said McGonagle.
So far, McGonagle said she was aware of a handful of teams that are planning to race in the regatta, and said she was hopeful more would sign up closer to the race.
The city is also continuing to work toward bringing a boathouse to the former site of Fairhaven Mills, according to Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
Leasing agents from RMD, the real estate development arm of DeMoulas Supermarket Inc., which is building a Market Basket on the site, have been in the city numerous times, meeting with prospective local tenants, he said.
According to Morrissey, identifying and signing tenants is the first step toward constructing the planned mixed-use buildings, which will include a boathouse.
Editor’s note: Charis Anderson participated in New Bedford Community Rowing’s adult rowing lessons this summer and will be a member of one of the organization’s competitive teams this fall.
September 10, 2010 12:00 AM