PITTSFIELD - Talk of a competitive rowing program in Pittsfield schools is creating more than a ripple among enthusiasts in the Berkshires.
"It's exciting," said Joan Schultz, the longtime coach of crew teams in the Lenox schools. " I wish them luck. It would be nice to have someone up there to scrimmage with."
Efforts at this point are preliminary, but the topic is expected to be on the agenda for the School Committee's meeting on Sept. 11. The committee will discuss a report from Athletic Director James Abel on the feasibility of forming a crew program in city schools.
Committee Chairman Aldred E. "Alf" Barbalunga said he asked Abel to prepare a report "on the viability of a crew program," after receiving inquiries about rowing from several student parents. He said some were inspired by the establishment of a lacrosse program a few years ago, which proved an impetus for other Berkshire schools to form teams as well.
" Rowing is big in other areas," Barbalunga said. "If there is a demand, we should try to supply it."
"I am thrilled," said Lewis Cuyler, a founder of the Berkshire Rowing and Sculling Society ( BRASS), who was instrumental in establishing a program with students from several local high schools that ended in 2008. "It just never really got off the ground," Cuyler said. "We said then, 'well, its time will come.''' Cuyler, who is less active with BRASS now than his wife, Harriet Cuyler, who coaches and competes at a high level in her age group throughout the region, said they both plan to attend the School Committee meeting.
"I've always thought it made sense," Cuyler said. "We have this great lake for rowing in Onota. And it's a lifelong sport. I'm 80 now and I rowed in school, in college, and I still row."
The boathouse BRASS fashioned from an old beachhouse at Burbank Park on Onota was used by the previous student team, which lasted two seasons and drew about a dozen students, Cuyler said. Shells, or boats for two- and four-person teams, could be stored there, he said, although an addition would be required to store 8-oar boats.
"We could actually start a high school program this fall with fours," he said, which Cuyler added would be a good way to build interest before adding teams of eight.
In his written report, Abel said there are at least three established sites for rowing in the area, Onota Lake, Stockbridge Bowl, where the Lenox teams practice, and Long Pond in Lakeville, Conn., where Berkshire School practices.
Crew is not a Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association sanctioned sport, he reported, and schools in the state operate programs on a club level with "self-supporting leagues and booster club activities supported by parents and volunteers."
The Massachusetts Public Schools Rowing Association, a nonprofit organization, plans spring and fall rowing seasons and a state championship, according to the report, and currently it has 18 public school programs involved. All are in the eastern part of the state.
Other schools, however, compete in regatta events similar to tournaments.
Abel reports that, if the committee wants to consider a program in Pittsfield, issues that will arise include the practice location and storage of boats and equipment; transportation for students and for the boats (which are approximately 35 to 45 feet in length and require a trailer); coaching, and the level of support from parents and others.
Schultz said the Lenox program has grown from about two dozen students in junior and senior high school to more than 40, and it formerly had more girls participating but today has more boys on the team.
Practice is at Stockbridge Bowl, where the carbon composite shells are stored. Students compete in two-, four- and eight-oar events, she said, in fall and spring seasons. Events typically are in the Capital District area in New York and in the Pioneer Valley region, both areas where Schultz said the sport is growing, and other sites in the Northeast.
In the fall, crew is considered a school sport and receives some financial support, she said, and in the spring a club sport.
Both Schultz and Cuyler said an attraction for some young people in the sport is that colleges are increasingly offering scholarships or looking favorably on experience in crew on a student's application.
To reach Jim Therrien: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6247 On Twitter: @BE_therrien