High school rowers pull together for inaugural 'Boat Prom'
Annika Christensen is a coxswain for a rowing team, the person who steers the racing shell, often giving her eight teammates commands to guide them across the finish line in record time.
So it's not surprising the senior from Quaker Valley is leading another group of crew members on another kind of voyage. Christensen created "Boat Prom." It's an evening for junior and senior rowers in the area to celebrate one of their high school milestones --- their prom -- on a date that still allows scholastic teams to compete at the Midwest Scholastic Rowing Championship May 12-13 in Nashport, Ohio to qualify for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Championships in Pennsauken, N.J. on May 25-26 or club teams to compete at the Midwest Junior Rowing Championship May 19-20 in Ohio where they can advance to the USRowing National Championships June 8-10 in California. Some schools or club teams have a conflict where the prom and one or several races are on the same day.
Boat Prom will be from 7:30 to 11 p.m. on June 2 at the Marriott City Center in Pittsburgh.
"I, like many rowers in the area, will be missing my school prom for this important race," says Christensen, who will be attending the University of Southern California in the fall. "But prom is an important part of high school, and, to be frank, it is sad that so many of us have to miss it."
Now, they don't have to.
Christensen's trying to get the word out about the event that is entirely athlete-driven and isn't sponsored or supported by any club or school. It's being funded only by donations via GoFundMe.
Rowers band together
Christensen's taken the leadership skills she's learned while directing those with oars to orchestrating everything from food to entertainment to a photo booth for the prom with help from fellow high school rowers — senior Genna Kindelberger from Franklin Regional, Fox Chapel junior Brian Mulhern, Oakland Catholic junior Angelina Mico and Allderdice senior Bradley Horvitz and senior Michael DeGregorio of Shady Side Academy, who is going to the University of Pittsburgh.
"I think Boat Prom is a really good idea," says Mulhern, who will be attending the event with Mico. "I am happy to be a part of it and want to spread the word at Fox Chapel and to other schools too."
This is a race they really can't miss, but they also don't want to not go to prom because that is a big part of the high school experience," Kindelberger says.
Boat Prom is a great way for rowers in Pittsburgh to connect, Mico says.
"If you don't go to nationals, then you will be letting your teammates down," says Horvitz, who'll be going to the prom with Mico and will then on to Cornell University. "They are counting on you to be in the boat. That's what a good teammate does. He thinks of the other rowers."
'Night on the Thames'
The theme is "Night on the Thames," a Henley-inspired prom. The Henley Royal Regatta is a most prestigious rowing event held annually on the River Thames in England.
"As of now, we've raised enough to put the deposit down on our venue and a photo booth," Christensen says. "We've been struggling to spread the word about Boat Prom because, while the Pittsburgh rowing community is small, it's also very spread out. Youth teams row out of three or four different boathouses around the city, so without the help of clubs and coaches, it's been nearly impossible to get the message to everyone."
They are using social media to spread the word. They've raised $900 of their goal of $3,500.
"And if this one is successful, then we hope the classes that come after us will want to carry on the tradition," Christensen says.
Despite the relative obscurity of rowing in the area, Christensen says she has found that rowers are some of the most dedicated, hard-working people she's ever met and she wants to give them this opportunity to both experience an important race and spend a fun evening at a prom. Christensen had thought about this idea last year but didn't have enough to plan it and many of the venues were taken with other events.
Come as a couple, or don't
They have 37 signed up. The goal is 100 guests. They need at least 58 to break even. Tickets are $48 until May 5, $52 after that.
Girls don't have to buy new dresses, or even wear gowns, and the guys aren't required to wear tuxedos ... many might choose a striped blazer — apparel most recognized by male rowers at the Henley Royal Regatta.
A date is also not a requirement. Feel free to come solo, organizers say.
"We are trying to keep the cost down, says Kindelberger, who will attend Saint Joseph's University starting in the fall. "We just want people to come and have a good time."
And maybe, they will meet other rowers who share the same passion and dedication for the sport which requires many hours on the water in all weather and at all hours of the day. It's a true team sport that requires everyone working together, Christensen says, so she's not surprised so many of them want to help her with this venture.
"We all love it rowing so much," Christensen says. "Personally, I've built a lot of my life around crew, and my team is my family. To be able to have a fun night dedicated to the sport to which many Pittsburgh high-schoolers have dedicated countless hours would be beyond amazing."
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or email@example.com or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.