Rowing club offers Williamsburg student athletes opportunity and serenity

Staff writer

Every afternoon, if you look out on the water near Chickahominy Riverfront Park, you might catch a glimpse of one of the young rowers of the Williamsburg Boat Club practicing their sport.

According to Tom Rooks, executive director and head coach of the Williamsburg Boat Club, since the club was founded, the numbers and interest in the sport have grown rapidly.

“The club began when my family moved here in 2014, but our youth teams have really taken off,” said Rooks. “We currently have 77 high school kids participating in the program, with an additional 20 middle school kids, which is incredible for such a young rowing program.”

The Williamsburg Boat Club rowing program, which has varsity and junior varsity teams for both boys and girls, has participating student-athletes coming from all four high schools in the Williamsburg area, with backgrounds as diverse as cyclists, figure skaters and swimmers, as well as a few taking their first stroke at student athletics.

“It’s a very welcoming group, we have people from every school in Williamsburg on the team, some I’d never met before who are now some of my best friends,” said Haley Rapp, a Lafayette senior who has been rowing for three years. “It’s a great sport, it’s an unconventional sport, especially for girls, but one with a lot of challenge and opportunity.”

Catherine Williams knows a little bit about both of those, given she recently accepted a rowing scholarship to Clemson.

“I started rowing a couple of years ago when I was looking for a sport to switch to from volleyball,” said Williams. “It took a lot of hard work, but I love the sport, and the friends and opportunities it has given me along the way.”

With several college rowing programs recently making national headlines over the ongoing college admissions scandal, coach Rooks says youth programs like the one at WBC are all the more important.

“We’ve had dozens of rowers accepted into at least 15 different colleges since the club began, from William and Mary to Washington,” said Rooks. “Some of these kids couldn’t have gotten into these schools otherwise, and every kid on those boats works hard, so when a scandal like this happens, it hurts student-athletes like them the most.”

While he would like to keep rowing when he attends the University of Virginia next fall, for Jamestown senior Joshua Piatak, it’s the love of the sport and the water that keeps him coming back.

I love the competition of it, it’s a very man vs. man sport, where the results depend on how fast and how strong I stroke and keep tempo with the team,” said Piatak. “It’s very primal, and there’s no feeling like being out on the water with the crew.”

The first race of the season is the Intracoastal Duals at Great Bridge, on March 30 in Chesapeake, but the team says any student curious about the sport is more than welcome to come out and give rowing a try.

“Every kid in Williamsburg is invited to come out and see if they like it, because, above all else, this is about the kids and about the sport,” said Rooks. “While winning is great, any time we can take a kid off the couch, get them in the boat and in love with the sport, that’s the real victory.”

Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email sean.korsgaard@vagazette.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.

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