Will this float? Rowing advocates gauge interest in Johnson City program


 By Scott Robertson

It’s 7:30 Wednesday morning but Steve Scheu, owner of Time & Pay, a Johnson City human resources firm, is not thinking about payrolls or time clocks. He’s pressing his bare feet against the footplate of his one-man shell, gaining leverage for the next full-body-pull that will send his craft sliding across the gently rippling surface of Boone Lake. From a distance, Scheu’s progress appears as though it is being achieved almost effortlessly as he cuts through the light breeze with steady strokes. In reality, Scheu is getting one of the best workouts one can have, blending cardiovascular conditioning with the exercising of most of the body’s large muscle groups.

Steve Scheu gets his exercise on Boone Lake most mornings. Photo by Scott Robertson.

Steve Scheu gets his exercise on Boone Lake most mornings. Photo by Scott Robertson.

Scheu (pronounced shy) is one of a few Johnson Citians who, having been captivated by the combination of grace, peace, discipline and strength involved in rowing are seeking to gauge the interest of the public in starting a serious rowing club here. Scheu, Steve Brumit, competitive rower Ed Uhrich and Allen Eubanks, who until recently was head coach of the Oak Ridge Rowing Association, are heading up the drive.

“It’s a wonderful sport,” Scheu says. “It’s so peaceful out here in the early morning.” He glides almost silently past a pair of mallards, who, as if to second his statement, pay him no mind, unalarmed by his presence in their vicinity.

Scheu is, at the moment, just yards away from the spot in Winged Deer Park where the members of the fledgling Tri-Cities Rowing Club hope to put a boathouse. In January, the advisory board of the Johnson City Parks & Recreation Department approved the concept of building the boathouse.

Concepts are easy to approve. Funding is another matter. As the city mulls its budget options for the coming fiscal year, priorities such as education and road maintenance are higher on the list.

With that in mind, Scheu and Eubanks met Tuesday afternoon with Scott Carter, senior associate athletic director/chief operating officer for the East Tennessee State University athletic department. They proposed ETSU start a women’s crew team. Doing so, they said, would help the athletic department meet Title IX requirements now that the university has started a football program. Title IX mandates that for every men’s athletic scholarship a university offers, one women’s athletic scholarship must also be offered. Since a women’s crew team can have 20 full scholarship members, starting such a squad would go a long way toward equaling the university’s football scholarship outlay. A non-scholarship men’s rowing club was also proposed.

Steve Scheu and other organizers hope to see ETSU pursue women's crew as a scholarship sport. Photo by Scott Robertson.

Steve Scheu and other organizers hope to see ETSU pursue women’s crew as a scholarship sport. Photo by Scott Robertson.

The university expressed interest, says Scheu, but is keeping its options open in regards to lacrosse, field hockey and bowling programs for women as well. “We thought they needed to meet their Title IX requirements inside of a year,” says Scheu. “That’s not the case. It’s more like 24 to 36 months.”

With no major funding from the city or university likely in the near term, the rowing club is turning to the community at large to determine whether private sector demand will be great enough to support its hoped-for growth. “Anyone who’s interested can go to trirowing.org,” says Eubanks. “That site is a great resource.”

To hear Eubanks tell it, the benefits of starting a club are legion. “Rowing brings a certain image to the city. It’s a great sport for young people because it teaches discipline and teamwork, but it’s also a life sport that you can take up at any age.”

“If you were to start a juniors program, that goes a long way to creating a really superior college culture,” says Eubanks. “The educational benefits of the sport are huge. It opens up so many opportunities.

“Women who row in high school have about a 55 percent chance of getting a college scholarship,” says Eubanks. “That’s according to the NCAA. That’s easily the highest sport. Men have about a 17 percent chance.”

Yet even with such a convincing sales pitch, it turns out that fundraising to start a rowing club is much like the sport itself. From a distance it seems like it should be easy, but in reality, it’s hard work.

And, adds Eubanks, there is one other way starting a club is like the act of rowing itself: it’s worth it.



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