Mass. teacher inspires Pioneer students to row
GREENFIELD, Mass.—Robert Englehardt fell in love with rowing more than 30 years ago.
Today, he's still in love with it and he's teaching it to 21 students at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield. He said many of them have also fallen in love with the water sport.
Englehardt, who is a physical education teacher at the school, also coaches the Pioneer Rowing Club, the only public school crew team in the county.
"Everyone should try rowing at least once," he said.
The school's former athletic director's passion was sparked back when he went to Springfield College and joined its crew team.
After graduation, he stopped rowing, but never forgot about it. Several years later, he stopped in to see a businessman who happened to be selling his boat.
"I came upon this four-man shell -- a Schoenbrod," said Englehardt. "They don't make them anymore. It's an ancient boat that happened to be top of the line when I was rowing."
Englehardt, who grew up in Hatfield, bought the boat for $600 and "stuck it in my father's barn."
Englehardt said he decided a few years ago he wanted to put together a co-ed rowing team at Pioneer.
He started with six students in spring 2010 and the team has 21 members today -- 14 girls and seven boys.
"The girls have the rhythm and technique and the boys have the power," Englehardt said. "It's a nice combination."
He said their abilities range from novice to somewhat experienced.
Englehardt said he has collected more boats over the years.
"I've gotten some from an engineer friend who closed his business and gave me boats people had abandoned and I've gotten some from other area rowing teams," he said. "They just needed a little work."
Englehardt said the team has competed in Northampton, Holyoke, Hingham, Milton, Quincy and Cape Cod and has won a couple of races.
"They're still learning," he said. "They're making progress all the time."
He said he'd like to take the team to Saratoga, N.Y., in the fall.
"There will be 50 schools competing there," he said. "That would be a good experience for them."
Englehardt said his team has rowed for five seasons, spring and fall, since spring 2010.
"We set a school record in our first race," he joked -- it was the first race ever for PVRS and the crew team came in third of three teams with a time of 7 minutes and 55 seconds. He said the team has since broken that record several times.
"This sport doesn't just teach kids how to row and to be safe on the water, it teaches them how to work as a team and be self-sufficient," said Englehardt.
He said students pay a fee to join the school team, which is also supported by donations and fundraisers. The money is used for entry fees, equipment, gas and other necessities.
"We take donations of money, but also of boats and oars and other equipment," he said.
He said it isn't just the students who are learning.
"I've spent some time with other coaches, listening and watching and getting ideas," Englehardt said.
"I do think this is a real opportunity for kids," he said. "Not only do you get to learn teamwork and get a lot of exercise and fresh air, but the scenery on the Connecticut, where the team practices, is amazing. You don't get to watch an eagle fly every day."
He said the team puts its boats in the
Englehardt said one of the things he is most proud of is the determination of everyone on the team.
"Our combined grade point average is 3.88," he said.
He said the kids also work extra hard on their rowing skills.
"In the beginning, the team looked like a newborn colt," he said. "Then, they got it -- they could feel the oars. They were going out and pulling through."
He said everyone on the team has a good attitude.
"None of them are worried about getting credit for something," he said. "They do everything as a team."
Information about the team may be found at: www.pioneervalley.k12.ma.us/studentgroups/rowingclub.
Englehardt said river conditions, weather reports and team activities may be found there.
He is currently offering an adult and child summer sculling class, which teaches one person to use two oars.
The cost is a $4 to $5 donation per person, which Englehardt said covers the cost of gas for the chase boat.
Classes are Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Friday from 8 to 10 a.m. through July 23.
The Pioneer Rowing Club will resume practices in late August and attend its first regatta in Longmeadow on Sept. 8.