A new Evanston Township High School rowing program is set to launch this month, giving ETHS students of all grade levels an additional choice in athletic pursuits – and no experience is necessary for them to test the waters.

“I’m looking for anyone who is curious or interested to come out this fall,” said head coach Luciana Ruiz. “We really want to make it an inclusive program.” The goal, she explained, is a diverse crew team that truly reflects the demographics of the school.

An assortment of boats is stored outside the Dammrich Rowing Center. The ETHS rowing program will have access to two eight-person boats this year and will focus on sweep-rowing, a technique where athletes use only one oar. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

The season begins Aug. 15 with a two-week trial period that will introduce the sport and provide basic instruction.

“That’s to extend the opportunity to row to as many people who are interested,” said Ruiz. “We’ll get the fundamentals down, get the safety requirements in place, and get some foundational strength training done before we officially go out on the water.”

The team will practice on the North Shore Channel with watercraft housed in the Skokie Park District’s Dammrich Rowing Center on the corner of Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard. Thanks to a partnership with Northwestern University, Ruiz’s alma mater, ETHS is borrowing equipment from the collegiate crew team.

Newer, well-maintained eight-person shells, like the two ETHS will be using, can cost as much as $15,000, so the arrangement will help the fledgling program keep expenses in check. The club fee of $15 covers the cost of the required USRowing membership, but the organization will waive the fee to accommodate students from underrepresented groups.

“We are very excited to bring rowing to ETHS this school year and greatly appreciate our partnership with Northwestern Rowing and the volunteer efforts of Luciana and her incredible staff to make this a reality,” said ETHS Athletic Director Chris Livatino.

Eventually crew team participation will be capped at 27 individuals due to equipment restrictions, according to Ruiz. Students who wish to pursue rowing beyond the two-week introduction period will be asked to commit to four days a week of after-school practice during the fall. Spring season will present an opportunity to reevaluate.

“For our first year we’re not expecting a full-year commitment,” she said. “I think it’s really valuable when kids play multiple sports.”

Ruiz said she and the rest of the coaching staff will be encouraging all sports-minded students to consider rowing as an option. “There are so many really strong athletes out there, but programs only have so much capacity,” she said. “Anyone who is interested in sports or athletics is going to make a great rower.”

Livatino emphasized that diversity is a high priority in the formation of the new crew team and applauded the efforts of North Channel Community Rowing (NCCR), a free program that has over the past year been working to widen access to the sport for Evanston youths. “Thanks to the creation of NCCR and their push to engage students of color in their middle school program, we hope to make this a sport that all students at ETHS feel comfortable participating in, especially starting with this year’s incoming freshman class.”

Ruiz has been volunteering with NCCR since its inception last summer and looks forward to taking her efforts to the next level. She said Evanston became her “home away from home” during her five years on the Northwestern crew team.  “I fell in love with Evanston and wanted to be more involved and I especially love working with kids.”

Five additional volunteer coaches are joining in the effort to create the rowing program: Evan Miller, Jacob LaPres, Jackson Lifford, Monica Schweitz and Alex Jimenez.

Nancy McLaughlin is an Evanston-based freelance writer who has a fascination for the everyday events that shape our community in extraordinary ways. She covers human interest stories for the RoundTable.