Mustang parent gauges interest for rowing team

A rowing team may be in Mustang Public Schools’ future.

Connie Houpt, a MPS parent, is gauging interest in adding a rowing team to Mustang’s lineup.

Houpt’s oldest son, Jason, graduated from Mustang High School in 2016. Jason, standing at 7’1”, played basketball for the Broncos, but decided to take a year off from school before beginning his college career.

Jason started rowing in the spring of this year and fell in love with the sport. Now, he’s preparing to start his freshman year at Oklahoma City University, where he’ll be rowing and playing basketball. He’s even attending the university on a rowing scholarship.

“Rowing is a fun way to get on the water and provides excellent scholarship opportunities for college-bound athletes. Rowing provides competition like no other and is wonderful exercise—cardiovascular conditioning, strength, balance, flexibility and unparalleled teamwork—rowing brings it all together on the water,” Houpt wrote in an email to Mustang News.

The team or teams would be co-ed and be through OKC RIVERSPORT.

It would be part of the Youth Rowing League, which has a middle school and high school division.

Teams are made up of eight rowers and one cockson who is in charge of steering the boat as well as leading and motivating the team.

Rowers are usually thought to be tall and the cockson is usually more petite, but Borger said anyone can learn how to row and have the potential to be successful at it.

Both fall and spring seasons are offered. Fall seasons are 12 weeks and spring seasons are 10 weeks, according to the Youth League webpage at www.riversportokc.org.

Riversport would provide equipment and coaches, and the team (s) would practice at the Lake Overholser Boathouse, 3115 Overholser Dr.

Melanie Borger, director of athletic programs for the boathouse district, has been helping Houpt set up the plans for possible Mustang team (s), and there is a pool of about 60 coaches who could be scheduled at Overholser as Mustang’s coach.

Mustang would just need either a teacher or parent as a sponsor, Borger said.

Practices would be an hour and a half twice a week or three hours once per week, depending on the team and schools’ preferences.

At the end of the season, the team (s) would compete in a championship race at the Oklahoma City Boathouse district, 725 S. Lincoln Blvd., against other middle schools or high schools.

The championship race will be hosted Saturday, Nov. 11. It is a 500m race for the SandRidge Cup on the Oklahoma River. About 500 spectators come out, RIVERSPORT staff hosts a free cookout and they “do it under the lights because in Oklahoma, we love the whole ‘Friday Night Lights’ idea,” Borger said.

The winning team displays the trophy until the next season.

Riversport’s Youth League began in 2009, and includes eight high school teams and three middle school teams.

The athletes first learn to row on indoor rowing machines then in racing shells on the water.

“It’s brand new to most of the kids so we will begin on the indoor rowing machines so they can get the body mechanics of the rowing stroke down. Many people don’t realize that rowing is a lower body sport—80 percent of power to the rowing stroke comes from your legs. Many people think they need strong arms, but it’s actually strong legs that create a powerful rowing stroke,” Borger said. “Once the coach feels like they’re ready to get on the water, they’ll go out on the water and continue with technique on the water until they get to the point where they’re capable and confident enough to start doing some race-kind-of-pieces for their training and harder workouts.”

The youth program previously focused on Oklahoma City metropolitan area schools near the Boathouse District, but after investing money into the Overholser location, including $750,000 from the Ann Lacy Foundation, RIVERSPORT officials are seeking more teams west of Oklahoma City.

There is a team fee to sign up and use RIVERSPORT’s coaches and equipment, but it would be free for Mustang students because Houpt found a corporate sponsor for the team. Automation Integrated has offered corporate sponsorship if the team (s) were to form.

Rowing is not a part of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) so it’s sometimes added as school activity rather than a sport, Borger said.

Houpt plans to bring the idea to Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel and Athletic Director Robert Foreman if there is enough interest in the program.

“Rowing provides a lot of opportunities to kids who might not have been a good fit for other sports. It’s something new and different. From what I’ve seen, about anyone can row who wants to try it. It’s also an opportunity for college scholarships. A lot of people don’t realize that because a lot of people in Oklahoma don’t know about rowing and don’t associate Oklahoma with rowing yet. Most of us know we have this amazing facility downtown and we have Olympic and college teams come through, but we don’t think about it at the middle school or high school level,” Houpt said. “Rowing is maybe a niche that somebody could fit into that hasn’t thought about it yet.

“If you’d like to join, you don’t have to be in prime physical condition.”

Borger joked in response, “we will get you there.”

If interested, parents or students can visit the “Mustang Rowing” Facebook group or call RIVERSPORT at 552-4040 extension 4212 to leave a name and number and mention the call is about Mustang Rowing.

“I would just like to echo what [Houpt] said—frequently kids who haven’t found their sport, rowing is frequently a good fit for them,” Borger said. “Everybody that joins this team will have never rowed before, whereas if you’re 12 years old and you decide you want to take up soccer, it can sometimes be a little demoralizing because when you join, everyone else has been playing since they were four. Then you don’t get any play time. So this is a good opportunity for kids who haven’t found their sport and I believe there’s a sport for every kid, it just might not involve a ball—it might involve an oar and a boat instead.”

OKC RIVERSPORT also has a Junior Crew that offers a more competitive rowing experience for both middle-and-high-school-aged students. The junior team practices six days a week and competes across the U.S.

“It’s treated more like a varsity team,” Borger said.

She said if Mustang athletes were interested in being more competitive and wanting a college scholarship, they could join the Youth Rowing League during their middle school years and apply for the Junior Crew in high school.

Houpt’s second son has put in his application for the Junior Crew and may be on the team this year.

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