Baltimore Community Rowing: Reach High Baltimore
On February 2nd, we launched our new Men's Unity Unisuit and Women's Unity Unisuit in honor of Black History Month. We will be donating a portion of sales of the Men's and Women's Unity unisuits purchased in February 2023 to Baltimore Community Rowing, and their Reach High Baltimore Program. Read about how BCR is working to increase diversity, accessibility, and inclusion in Baltimore, one stroke at a time.
From Baltimore Community Rowing:
Baltimore Community Rowing (BCR) promotes the sport of rowing for fitness, competition, and recreation by offering programs for middle school, high school, and adult athletes in the Baltimore Metro area. BCR is committed to creating an inclusive rowing community that reflects the socio-economic diversity of the Baltimore metro region and actively works to break down barriers to participation for athletes of color. BCR serves an average of 200 adult athletes and 175 youth athletes per year in programs ranging from learn-to-row, competitive teams, developmental squads, and recreational classes. Our high school and competitive teams race regionally and nationally, and when the opportunity presents itself, internationally as well.
The boathouse from which BCR operates, the Baltimore Rowing & Water Resource Center, sits on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, along the last 11 miles of undeveloped waterfront in Baltimore City. Our waterfront has a decades long history of industrialization and disinvestment that created barriers to water access in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Middle Branch. The boathouse is situated within neighborhoods that are largely working class and home to communities of color, and BCR is one of the few programs providing water access in this part of Baltimore City.
When the boathouse was built in the mid-1980s, the mission of BCR—then known as Baltimore Rowing Club—was written into its charter: to provide training and coaching to students in Baltimore City and surrounding area. In 2011, that mission was formalized into our current outreach program, Reach High Baltimore. Reach High Baltimore was founded to connect athletes of color from Baltimore City Public Schools with the resource-rich environment of the Middle Branch through the sport of rowing. What began with 12 students from the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, has transformed over the years to include athletes from schools across the city and athletes of color from surrounding counties participating in our developmental middle school and competitive high school juniors programs, and over 60 students per year served through community partnerships. Our middle and high school programs are a fantastic mix of public and private, city and county, and homeschool students united in training and racing.
Reach High Baltimore is focused on specific recruitment of student athletes of color, scholarships and fee assistance for students with demonstrated need, transportation to the boathouse from designated locations in Baltimore City, and summer jobs for student athletes residing in Baltimore City. Through Reach High Baltimore, BCR partners with community organizations to provide learn-to-row lessons for middle and high school students. The highlight of these partnerships is our summer learn-to-row programs that are staffed by our current student athletes and collegiate alumni. Through the jobs provided during summer learn-to-row, BCR has created a pathway to coaching for our alumni athletes, who may start as a summer employee through Youthworks—a program of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development— or volunteer then progress to an AmeriCorps coaching position through Up2Us Sports, ultimately working a part-time or full-time position on the BCR coaching staff. BCR is committed to building a staff that reflects the diversity of the athletes it serves, and we have been very lucky to have some talented and absolutely amazing alumni athletes join our staff in recent years.
Building on Reach High Baltimore’s mission to break down barriers for middle and high school athletes of color, BCR has been actively expanding the accessibility and diversity of its adult programs. BCR created and staffed an entirely new collegiate program in 2022, with scholarships available for alumni of Reach High Baltimore. The collegiate program creates a pathway for alumni of the high school rowing program to remain engaged with BCR and train alongside other collegiate rowers, and we hope it establishes BCR as a rowing home that these adult athlete always feel welcome to return to.
The next step in creating an accessible boathouse has been engaging the community to establish BCR as a resource and developing a sustainable scholarship system for the adult programs. While both of these initiatives are still very much in progress, BCR has made good strides in opening the boathouse doors and connecting with new athletes through community learn-to-row events and our most recent—and very popular—series of community erg sessions. BCR hosts these no-cost, no-commitment-required events regularly, so that anyone can tour the boathouse, learn more about rowing, and get a feel for our programs.
While funders often willingly invest in youth participation in athletics, which have measurable outcomes in academic success and social-emotional learning, we know that health and wellness outcomes improve with physical activity no matter the participant’s age. With that knowledge, in 2022, BCR reimagined and reintroduced its group learn-to-row program as a revenue generator for the inaugural BCR adult program scholarship fund. This initiative is still very much in its early stages, but was able to realize an immediate impact last year, with plans to expand available support to 4-5 athletes this year.
In rowing, the race to the finish line is fueled by volumes of training that are undertaken stroke by stroke. In community rowing there is no finish line when pursuing accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion, just endless volumes of actions we can take to open the boathouse doors a little more. At Baltimore Community Rowing we continue to build our team and our community person by person, stroke by stroke, pulling together for a stronger Baltimore and a resilient, welcoming, and inclusive rowing community.