Not So Gently Down the Stream: Middle School Rowing Team Takes the Golden Oarlock
by Martha Hicks Leta, Inly parent
In the training session before four stalwart members of the Inly Middle School Rowing Team prepared to race in the Boston Harbor Youth Rowing Championship, Hull Lifesaving Museum Director and coach, Lory Newmyer, gave it to them straight: they would be rowing against teams of high school kids, some of whom had been practicing and racing together for years; the other teams were more physically mature, stronger, tougher and more experienced; and while there was little doubt that Inly would lose, the experience would build character and would be helpful for the upcoming Ice Breaker competition.
“We will be competing against crews that are stronger racers than we,” said Newmyer in an email to the rowers leading up to the event. “But, the whole point of this event is to learn how to line up for races with several other boats, how to handle a crowded race course (and possible collisions!), and, as always, how to have fun, win or lose.”
And so, on the morning of Saturday, November 9 on the docks of Boston’s historic Fort Point Channel, the Inly Team awaited the arrival of the other racers in typical Inly style. They weren’t worked up or nervous. The talk was of upcoming tests and how their high school visits were going, and how they wished the rest of the team could be with them. “I just want to have fun today,” said Charlie McDonald, and the others agreed.
Teams from Cushing House, Green Academy, Charlestown High School, Inly School, and South Shore Youth Rowing
At the edge of the dock, several Whitehall Fours, rowing gigs that resemble smaller versions of ancient life-saving vessels, bobbed in the pewter waters that lay at the edge of Boston’s financial district. Here, America’s revolutionaries once tossed cases of precious tea in revolt against oppressive British rule. It was a lot to ponder, standing at the edge of the channel that shaped Boston’s watery history. And then rowers from Green Academy, South Shore Youth Rowing, Cushing House and Charlestown High School began filing onto the docks. They were older, bigger, and had that indefinable high school swagger.
As Inly crew members sized up the competition, another rower asked where their team was from. “Inly,” came the reply. And then, “Inly? Is that, like, a name or an acronym or something?” It’s too hard to explain, the kids seemed to decide. “It’s a Montessori school in Scituate.” The response was a dismissive, “Oh.”
Boat assignments were made and the rules for the round-robin style race announced. The Green Academy kids, three men and one woman, scrambled into a boat and shoved off for their warm up, clearly demonstrating their skills at the first dip of the oars. As they stroked through the water, like perfectly synchronized parts of a sleek machine, their strength and skill were evident. In their first heat they dusted off the competition—Cushing and one of the Charlestown teams—easily.
Then it was Inly’s turn. The crew piled into the white and blue trimmed “Mighty Cod” with Caroline Leta in the bow position, followed by John McNeil, Ali Faulkner and Charlie McDonald, with coxswain and Hull Rowing Club instructor, Bill Foley, calling commands. The race would consist of a sprint with three sharp turns around marker buoys and a straightaway sprint to the finish. The Inly team knew from Lory Newmyer’s coaching that they might collide, they might lose rhythm, they might go off course, but the instructions were, no matter what, to keep rowing and finish the race.
As the Inly crew pushed off the docks to warm up, the Firefly and Bowfin gigs loaded up with the Charlestown High women’s team, and South Shore Youth Rowing, respectively. Friends, relatives, officials and coaches stationed across from Boston’s sparkling skyline watched as the three vessels worked their way to the distant starting line where race officials, Maritime Program Director, Ed McCabe, and Home Waters Coordinator, Rafael Vieira, waited in a launch to call the start.
With the three racing gigs finally in position, an air horn blasted, signaling the start of the heat. Oars dug into the water, coxswains shouting orders, the racers were off. South Shore got off the line first, gaining nearly a full length ahead of Inly as they approached the first buoy with the Charlestown women’s team struggling in third. Inly held their steady second as they came into the first turn and then, somehow, amid the startled shouts of the spectators, Team Inly gained the inside, edging out the leading boat.
“They just took the lead!” a parent shouted. “That’s them in the white boat! They’re in the lead!”
Inly taking the first heat win
Away from the first turn, Inly held steady, pulling toward the second marker with SSYR applying heat for the inside position for the second turn. There was a brief moment of panic and lost rhythm from the Mighty Cod as Ali Faulkner “caught a crab,” missing the water with her oar stroke and losing balance. “Keep rowing, Inly!” Newmyer hollered from the finish line. The Inly crew rallied and dug in, making way toward the third buoy.
Catching the crab
Backs curved, legs and arms strained, the crew pulled and pulled, edging away, yard by yard, SSYR’s “Bowfin” in hot pursuit as the Charlestown team continued to struggle valiantly in the third place boat, “Firefly.”
“Oh, my God. They’re going to win!” Inly parent, Nancy McDonald, exclaimed as they sprinted for the finish. The parents and friends went nuts as the Inly team continued to gain distance from the second and third vessels. “Go INLY!! GO!!”
And go they did. The team came off the first heat breathing hard, but beaming from ear to ear with the very unexpected victory. Teamwork felt good, they said. Winning with a team felt even better.
After all was said and done, Team Inly rounded out the day winning their first two heats and coming in at a respectable third in the final straightaway sprint, edged out by heavy-weights, Charlestown 2 and Green. Inly took the Lightweight category and, most unexpectedly, the big win of the day, beating out all the other teams for combined fastest time for all three races, with .33 and .38 leads over the second and third runners up, respectively.
At the end of the day, Inly’s team stood proudly for pictures with their Golden Oarlock medals hanging from their necks. Charlie McDonald declared, “I can’t believe we actually won! This feels incredible. I never want to forget this.” They all agreed. Not bad at all for a bunch of eighth graders from a school none of the other racers had ever heard of. We think they might remember us now. Well done, Inly Rowing Team. Well done.
Team Inly, John McNeil, Charlie McDonald, Ali Faulkner, Caroline Leta, pose with their metals
More on the Ocean Rowing Program at Inly Middle School:
Scituate’s Inly School to Compete in Icebreaker Rowing Tournament (Boston Globe South, Nov 2011)