PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee has authorized continued efforts to gauge student interest in crew as a sport in city schools -- along with outreach to the local rowing community to determine the level of support.
The board voted to back an investigatory effort after hearing from members of the Berkshire Rowing and Sculling Society (BRASS) organization and a feasibility study report from Athletic Director James Abel.
Abel, who was asked to prepare a feasibility report by committee Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga, said the key issues the board should consider include the level of interest, including among youth not yet in middle school; the cost of boats and equipment for rowing and for transporting the racing shells; the availability of coaches and the level of support from parents and the community.
Abel said he doubts a full program could be created immediately but one might grow over time if students show an interest.
Lewis Cuyler, a founder of the BRASS organization, and his wife, Harriet, who coaches and rows competitively, attended the meeting along with other group members. Cuyler gave an impassioned pitch for the sport, saying he was never good at football and other sports but took to crew as a young teen.
Rowing "restored my ego," Cuyler said, and he went on to row and coach a freshman team at Amherst. "It has been a big part of my life ever since," he said.
The BRASS group has about 55 members and a boathouse on Onota Lake, which it raised money to restore. Cuyler said after the meeting that he hopes a program might be organized to introduce more Pittsfield youth to the sport.
BRASS did offer competitive rowing for students from several local high schools for about seven years, ending in 2008, he said, but the program lacked focus because the students were from different schools and there was no school system support.
Harriet Cuyler said she didn’t begin rowing until she was in her 40s and BRASS member Marge Cohen said she began in her 60s.
Unlike some sports, rowing encourages "healthy living for the rest of your life," Cohen said.
The committee voted 6-1, with Terry Kinnas opposed, to accept Abel’s report.
Kinnas raised questions about the costs and said there could be liability issues.
Barbalunga said those issues could be considered after the committee decides whether the school should sponsor a team.
Abel said most crew teams, such as in Lenox schools, are club teams, unlike Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association sanctioned team sports like football or baseball, and receive significant support from parents, boosters or organizations.
In Western Massachusetts, there are three schools in the Pioneer Valley with school teams. More than 18 schools compete in Eastern Mass. regattas. Lenox competes in regattas in the Albany, N.Y., area and elsewhere.
Lenox coach Joan Schultz has said the program began small and now has about 40 male and female rowers. Like most schools, there is a fall and a spring racing schedule.
In his report, Abel said sites for rowing in the area include Onota and Stockbridge Bowl, where the Lenox teams practice.