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updated: 4/11/2013 7:32 PM

First year rowing club a big hit for St. Charles students

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D. Tyler Miller spent his youth and college years as a competitive rower developing his shoulders, lats and legs. Now he's got your back.

Last August the California transplant and St. Charles resident Chris Meldrum started the St. Charles Rowing Club for kids ages 13-18. There are college athletic implications to all of this. We'll get to that in a bit.

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Inspired by what Miller called a "sister" rowing club in Crystal Lake they figured, why not utilize what they have in their own back yard? Especially considering Meldrum, a former Marquette swimmer, tired of driving her son, Gordon O'Brien, to row in Crystal Lake six days a week.

Miller, who competed for the University of California, said: "The St. Charles, Tri-Cities area has a gem in the Fox River and, like most cities back in the early 1900s they turned their backs to the waterways. And now that rivers and bodies of water are much cleaner than they used to be, we're turning back to them. Not everybody has access to a body of water that is as beautiful as the Fox River."

Enjoying nature's splendor is just one aspect of St. Charles Rowing, which launches its fleet seven days a week out of the Riverwoods Christian Center in St. Charles, around Pottawatomie Park, where Miller said Wheaton College has rowed for more than two decades.

He notes the non-impact nature of the sport, plus the plain fact that since it's not as steeped in our specialized sports culture as most other activities on the high school roster, participants are basically at the same level -- novice.

Miller cites the camaraderie of working together in these 42-foot boats with three other rowers plus the coxswain -- the "motivator," he called it, who synchronizes the strokes of the rowers.

Again, a level playing field.

"It's not a sport where one player can dominate and the other players are more facilitators," Miller said. "Every player has an equal share in making the boat move fast and win races, and that's a skill that will be with them as they go to whatever endeavor they choose the rest of their life, working with people."

A main thrust of Miller's pro-rowing argument is it can provide "opportunity of out thin air" -- the opportunity of a college scholarship.

According to Tom Farrey's 2008 book, "Game On," the author uses figures from an NCAA report of the mid-2000s to comprise a chart listing a high school athlete's probability of playing various sports in college, for both men and women.

Whereas the chance of "making" a Division I men's volleyball or basketball team was 1 in 111 (though significantly better when considering all divisions), the odds of rowing for a DI program were 1 in 2. The numbers really favored female rowers -- 2-to-1 odds for participating with a DI program, 3-to-1 for all divisions.

For example, Scholarship Stats.com presents data from the 2011-12 school year indicating 2,464 male high school rowers compared to 2,994 collegiate men's rowers; for women the figures were 6,261 in high school and 7,192 in college. However, Scholarship Stats mentions the caveat that those numbers are for sanctioned high school teams only and don't indicate club activity, of which rowers comprise the majority.

Still, Miller said 55 percent of female rowing applicants can win scholarships, and 17 percent of males.

"More than any other sport," he said, "in these economic times rowing can help (students) get into a school they might not get into."

A combination of all these factors has led a group of junior rowers to the Fox River weekday evenings and on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

St. Charles Rowing Club founding members Gordon O'Brien of St. Charles North, St. Charles East's Jackie Bidlack and Sam Schweizer and Rosary's Abbey Rich have since been joined by North Stars Nora and Dan Leonard, Geneva's William Walker and St. Charles East's Joe Sterner and Jack Dunlap. Two middle schoolers from St. Charles, Jake Schweizer and Sam Schiller, also are in the club.

It's a full year-round pursuit, with regattas planned spring, summer and fall. In addition to the Chicago Junior Championships in Crystal Lake May 4, which should draw the likes of New Trier and St. Ignatius, the spring schedule includes an invite in Madison, Wis., and the early June nationals in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Subsequent events include destinations in Ontario and on Boston's Charles River -- "the curviest racecourse in the world," Miller said.

The club is pricey, at $600 for the spring session alone. But after visiting saintcharlesrowing.com or attending Saturday's open house at Pottawatomie Park perhaps some people will think it's a wise use of resources considering opportunities down the road, er, waterway.

"There's something to be said for graduating without debt. or with very little debt," Miller said.

"Nobody will know more than them, everybody learns together, and when they go off to college they will be further along than ninety percent of the people who are on college rowing teams today."

Soon to be a Big 10

Just for kicks, checked in with Rochelle athletic director and football coach Kevin Crandall about the developments in the Northern Illinois Big XII Conference, which will be down to 10 in the 2014-15 academic year after Dixon moves to the Big Northern and Streator goes to the Interstate Eight.

"Until we can get additional schools to possibly join, we'll just go with two five-team divisions," said Crandall, whose Hubs will move out of Kaneland's East Division into the West.

"We've probably invited everybody who could possibly fit and we haven't had any luck," said the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association 2012 Hall of Fame inductee.

For two-division sports such as football and basketball, unless something happens fast the East Division will be: Kaneland, DeKalb, Morris, Sycamore and Yorkville. The West will be Rochelle, Geneseo, LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa and Sterling.

Football will have no automatic qualifier into the playoffs, but the only way this would be a factor is if a divisional winner went 4-5 overall. Schedules will add another nonconference game to go with two conference crossovers and four divisional contests.

Crandall said Northern Illinois hopes to add at least one if not two teams.

"We're just going to keep trying to put feelers out and seeing if there's somebody interested," he said. "If there's a conference with some instability and schools are looking to leave, we'll approach them. But formally we've approached just about everybody that, enrollment-wise and geographically, might fit."

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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