Philadelphia City Rowing helps to save varsity programs at Temple

When Temple University announced the decision to eliminate seven varsity programs last December—including men’s crew and women’s rowing—a fight began to save the historic programs for the benefit of the student-athletes, coaches and prospective rowers at Temple.

For Philadelphia City Rowing, a nonprofit organization that strives to recruit, train, educate and empower young people through the sport of rowing, the university was not going to cut both programs without a hand-to-hand battle with those directly affected by the cuts.

Philadelphia City Rowing's training room for rowers.
Philadelphia City Rowing’s training room for rowers.

“We were collaborating with the coaches and trying to get a meeting together with the city before we knew what was going on in regards to the saving of the canoe club and the saving of the varsity rowing programs,” said Terry Dougherty, executive director of PCR. “And one of the obstacles, obviously, was for the city to agree to allow some outside source to renovate that facility.”

“When they were cutting rowing,” she added, “we already have two graduates at Temple rowing, and it is definitely an attraction for kids in the city who want to stay in the city. It is a great school and they have a wide variety of majors and it’s very interesting for our kids. We try to visit the school each year with about 10 or 15 kids to see the campus and talk to the coaches and when I found out that they were cutting rowing, it was a blow to one of our rowers because he is on a partial scholarship and in addition, it was something that I knew would make the kids lose interest in wanting to go see the school.”

The organization, headquartered on Girard Avenue and serving roughly 80 kids every year, has sent many kids through the program to Temple and other schools in the United States for rowing. With half the girls and one out of every six boys in the organization earning a scholarship, the effect of the Temple board of trustees deciding to cut the programs was detrimental for students within the organization hoping to stay local after graduating high school.

“There are a lot of people in our program, either direct staff or friends of staff that either rowed at Temple, coached at Temple, know coaches at Temple—so everyone was pretty upset about it,” said Zachary Mondesire, varsity girls’ coach for PCR. “And since Temple rowing is such an institution in Philadelphia it definitely wasn’t something that was taken very lightly. There were a lot of people who seemed to be pretty interested in organizing or advocating for the team with its history and everything.”

Boats used by rowers of Philadelphia City Rowing.
Boats used by rowers of Philadelphia City Rowing.

The biggest problem facing the men’s crew and women’s rowing programs at Temple was the lack of facilities and an estimated $3 million to $4 million needed to save both programs. With a plan in place, a much-needed loan and bookmarked money from the city, PCR was able to help Temple’s programs throughout the more than two-month battle.

“From what I heard, the money has come from a private [lender], which is Gerry Lenfest,” said Dougherty. “He is very philanthropic in the city and he is a strong believer in youth development as well as collegiate development and I know he is on the board of trustees at the university. The city, from what I’ve heard, is putting in their money they had bookmarked for that facility that was going to take them another four or five years in their budget before he stepped in and pretty much donated the money.”

On Feb. 24, Temple’s board of trustees reversed its decision to eliminate men’s crew and women’s rowing while still eliminating the other five varsity programs effective July 1, 2014. With the help of the Lenfest Foundation and the city, the university will rebuild the boathouse and have a long-term lease to control the building for both the men’s and women’s programs. The boathouse will be an upgrade for both programs that have been sharing and operating out of tents since the boathouse was condemned in 2008.

In addition, repairs to the structure will be made inside and out, the parking lot will be rebuilt and new landscaping will help deal with water runoff. Temple estimated that the construction would take between 12 and 18 months.

Boathouses found along Philadelphia's famous Boathouse Row.
Boathouses found along Philadelphia’s famous Boathouse Row.

“I guess I still need to sit down and hear the details on the boathouse,” said Temple women’s rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski, after hearing her program would be reinstated. “We had discussions on the side, preliminarily, with architects and engineers, figuring out the costs. I can’t wait to hear what the plan is, and figure out what we need to do to get there.”

For Dougherty, Mondesire and everybody involved in the process at PCR, the victory to reverse the decision allows for security in the future for student-athletes and coaches at Temple, as well as those in the organization with dreams of rowing for the Owls one day.

“Personally, I was just happy for our graduates at Temple that they could continue rowing,” Mondesire said. “I know a lot of the coaches have big plans at Temple. They just bought some new boats and I know the team is growing so I was happy for them because there is a lot of growth going on in local rowing so I was happy for our program and the coaches that I know so they could have some sort of security in their future.”

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