Rowers of a certain age will remember when the Reggie Lewis Track in Boston was filled with ergs and elite rowers doing their thing at CRASH-Bs. Over the past few years, indoor rowing has returned to Reggie Lewis with Community Rowing's "Indoor School Rowing Championships," known as of this year as YETI: Youth Erg Trials International.
For the event, more than 1,000 middle school and high school student participants from 26 schools, including Boston Public Schools, Greater Boston, and visiting crews from Lawrence, Waltham, and Norwalk, CT packed into Reggie Lewis for team-style indoor rowing. Over 200 teams competed in the relays, with Middle-school athletes in mixed teams of four each rowed for 90 seconds in the sprint competitions on indoor rowing machines, while High-school students rowed in mixed teams of three, each rowing for two minutes, to see which team could amass the most meters.
"When this event started in 2011, there was a group of about 50 or so kids, last year we had 300 kids, so we tripled our entries this year," said Tiffany Macon, CRI's Manager of Middle School Rowing. "Every year we're looking to continue to raise the bar and bring as many kids as we can."
YETI is that rare rowing event (although there have been more and more in recent years) where the youngest rowers are the center of attention. The bulk of YETI participants competed in the 5th through 8th grade events, and while technique (and athletic attire) might not have been perfect, the effort and enthusiasm on display were a refreshing change from the staid atmosphere of most "normal" regattas. Get fired up and make some noise? "We got this," said the 5th grade. "The idea is to get the youngest kids possible to come out and race," said Macon. "The 5th grade kids make up the largest group of competitors here on the floor."
CRI's commitment to the event has also grown, with a full cadre of coaches getting into the local schools with ergs in order to each rowing. "Now, at one time, we'll have seven schools running at one time, with about five coaches out there. We work on rotations, we work on scheduling with the schools, and it's literally our coaches going into schools, working with the coaches and getting them excited about coming down here," said CRI's Macon. "The return is great, the kids love their erg coaches, and they are excited to come down here and see them and perform well for them."
A Para/inclusion relay category allowed special-needs athletes from the Boston Public Schools to get on the ergs and soak in the racing atmosphere.
The event also featured rowing equipment demonstrations, yoga, tennis, and team oar design stations, and even celebrities to hand out the medals, with former New England Patriots tackle Max Lane and Paralympic Silver Medalist Rower Jenny Sichel on hand for awards presentations. And, don't forget about the Yeti; the furry event mascot was on hand to offer encouragement, high fives and crowd pump-ups, although, at least for the Middle School events, any extra encouragement to "get loud" wasn't really needed.
Boston's Mildred Avenue School repeated as event champions in the 5th-8th grade category. With almost 90 students in attendance, Mildred Avenue enthusiastically celebrated the win, and the prize oar that came with it.
"Our kids were focused, dedicated, and it's our second year in a row winning," said Mildred Avenue coach Sadie Soto. "We've been partners with CRI for the past four years. The rowing team at Mildred is the highlight of our school, the kids want to be part of it."
Lawrence High School took the HS Mixed Event, and CRI took both the HS Men's and Women's Events. For Community Rowing's Macon, the goals go beyond simply holding an erg event for younger kids. "The idea was that we would bring these kids together so that they could compete as a school. In Boston there are track meets, and basketball games, and all these students coming out to compete against each other, and we see that we don't have other sports such as rowing," she said. "Next year we want this event to be 3,000 kids."