News & Press
The rowing clubs nestled along the
banks of the Schuylkill River on Kelly Drive in
Philadelphia haven’t seen a lot of change in the decades they have been there. It’s been the same with
the city’s rowing community.
As big as the sport is in the city, and as much
of a landmark as Boathouse Row has been, it has
never attracted participation from the Philadelphia’s
large urban high schools and neighborhoods.
Starting with the passion of a past U.S. National Team athlete who was motivated by a bout
with cancer and fueled by the generosity of anonymous donors, Philadelphia city government, volunteers from the rowing clubs, U.S. Olympians and
national team athletes, an urban opportunity has come to Boathouse Row.
On land donated by the city’s Parks and
Recreation Department, an outdoor enclosure on
Boathouse Row will house a ﬂeet of boats provided
by the school district and will serve as home to the
Philadelphia City Rowing program, the ﬁrst citywide
public school rowing program ever.
“This comes from the goodness of people’s
hearts,” said past U.S. National Team rower Libby
Peters, who started Philadelphia City Rowing and
serves as its president. “This is something that is
very much needed in Philadelphia. There is a huge
dropout rate and a huge crime rate and a lot of that is
attributed to juvenile crime. It’s not a problem with
the kids, it’s a problem with the system.
“Rowing is a sport that kind of keeps kids
on the straight and narrow. You have to work really
hard. You have to be really disciplined. There is a lot
of structure, and I’ve never known a rower who was
a wayward kid. We kind of approached people with
that angle and it struck a lot of cords with the people
in Philadelphia who really care about improving the
outcome of the youth in the area.”
The idea for an urban school-based program
in Philadelphia has been talked about for years. The
boats donated by the school district were actually
purchased six years ago in hopes that the school-
based team would get started.
But nothing came of it, and the boats were
stored in a hanger at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
While the boats sat and waited in storage, Peters
was an undergraduate and rowing at Columbia
While there, she volunteered her time with
Row New York, a non-proﬁt club that provides
rowing and academic support opportunities for the
inner city kids in New York City.
“That was a wonderful experience, and
probably one of the most meaningful things I felt
like I ever did. It really kind of
shaped me as a person and a rower
actually. I was grateful for it and
wanted to see the kids in Philadelphia have that same opportunity,”
Peters carried the idea with
her when she came to Philadelphia
to row at Vesper Boat Club, but the
plan was put aside as she set her
sights on making the U.S. National
Team. She rowed and trained and
made the team, winning a bronze
medal in the lightweight women’s
quadruple sculls at the 2008 World
Rowing Senior and Junior Championships.
And then cancer struck.
Peters was diagnosed with non-
Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009, and
her competitive rowing career came
to a halt as she went into treatment.
Her cancer has been in re-
mission for a full year, but the time
away from rowing and the experience with cancer motivated her
to get moving toward starting her
“I kind of put some things in
my life off to train, and things like
that and the experience made me
really grateful for the kindness of
other people. I wanted to do something good and I didn’t want to wait to do it,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard since
November on this, and it’s something I’m really
passionate about. I had the desire to do it, but I
think the experience with cancer ignited the passion.”
Peters said she wrote a business plan for
the program and in November of 2009, she sent
it to the Philadelphia School District’s Athletic
Director, the Parks and Recreation Department
and to Clete Graham, then Commodore of the
Schuylkill Navy, the governing organization of rowing in Philadelphia.
“This is something that was needed,”
Graham said. “But it was a matter of ﬁnding the
right person to take charge. Libby was the right
person. She put this all together. She saw the need
in Philadelphia and picked up the banner and ran
Graham helped her form a board of directors, which he now is a member of, and the city
of Philadelphia jumped in. The parks department
contributed land between the Fairmount Rowing
Association boathouse and Lloyd Hall, and an
enclosure was built.
The school district provided the boats, and
Peters was off and running. With help from several of her U.S. teammates, including Sarah Trow-
bridge, Meghan Sarbanis, Dan Beery and David
Banks, among others, Peters went out into various
schools and began recruiting.
The group signed up 160 students and this
summer they participated in three different learn-
to-row camps and rowed in an exhibition race in
the Philadelphia Youth Regatta.
Of that group, Peters expects
at least 50 to come back and com-
pete this fall, and then in the spring,
as members of the Philadelphia
Scholastic Rowing Association.
“We have competitions
planned with the other high schools
this fall,” said Peters.
Philadelphia City Rowing
has the support of the Philadelphia Scholastic Rowing Association (PSRA), the association that
governs high school rowing in the
city. The PSRA has even begun to
make changes to their by-laws that
will allow the citywide program to
compete in their spring sprint racing series, the Manny Flick/Horvat
Right now, athletes are only allowed to row as a team if they are
from the same school.
“We have to go into our
by-laws, and we’ve already started
working on this. Our rules committee is looking to come up with a
rule that will provide that exception
just for PCR,” said PSRA president
Leslie Pfei. “Our permanent membership will have to vote on that,
but I don’t see that as being a problem.
“We love this; we think it’s great. We have public schools in the PSRA, but
none from the city. For a long time, we have felt
that Philadelphia high schools should have teams.
We’re hoping that PCR will eventually prompt the
individual schools to have their own teams, rather
than just competing as a district team.”
Pfei said she does not believe that will be
an issue for the ﬁrst few years and that PSRA is
not only supportive of the new program, but will
contribute ﬁnancially to help get it going.
“As soon as we get our books worked out
for 2010 and see what kind of money we have, we
will be supporting them,” said Pfei.
Peters said she has been overwhelmed by
the support her efforts have received from every-
one in the rowing community, including past and
current U.S. National Team athletes.
“The current U.S. National Team has sup-
ported our program by pooling together 28 of the
$100 credits that they received from Concept2, the
Vermont-based oar and rowing machine company,
and have purchased three new ergs for our pro-
gram,” Peters said. “That effort was spearheaded
by Sarah Trowbridge. We have been so grateful
for the support of all of the U.S. athletes who have
helped us recruit, visited practice and pitched in to
support our program.”
Like any beginning program, there is still
a lot of work do to and details to work out. But
in the end, Peters hopes the program will become
much more than just a rowing team.
“I’d like to see it grow, so that we have the
resources to kind of give the kids school support
as well,” she said. “We are trying this fall to do
a mentoring thing, where we pair the kids with
an adult from the rowing community who can
serve as somebody the kids can talk to about their
grades, their academic ambitions, things like that.
“We aspire to be like Row New York,
which has it’s own facilities, tutoring and a kitchen. We want to make rowing a kind of a safe haven for some of the kids in Philadelphia who don’t
have that right now.”