Beach Channel Crew Battles Adversity
For 31 years, the Beach Channel Crew team has the distinction of being the only public school team to compete in the city. In that time, they have traveled to competitions against the best schools in the tri-state area.
But in that time frame, the school has always faced obstacles in raising the money needed to fund a rowing team. Due to budget constraints, the team, parents and friends have had to raise money to pay for transportation costs, uniforms, equipment and other incidentals.
“That’s the main thing- raising money,” says Josue Lopez, a member of the team. “We do everything we can like selling bumper stickers but we don’t have enough to cover everything.”
With recent donations from the Department of Education, the school has been able to purchase new boat shells for their races. The team also received enough funds to travel to a camp in South Carolina during the winter break.
“It was a great experience for us and we all had a great time,” head coach Chris Horn said of the five day trip.
“It was a valuable experience because we needed to get that amount of time (at least 8 to 9 hours a day) on the water.”
Horn greatly appreciated the help by the politicians and the Dept. of Ed but sadly says that his team will be running with a deficit for this season.
When it comes to hard work, the Dolphins do not back down from anyone they face. More than 40 boys and girls have joined this season and Horn says he’s never seen that many in his nine years of coaching.
The team knows that when they travel to regattas, their opponents will have more money and team members. Though it’s an obstacle, it doesn’t prevent Beach Channel from trying to compete and win. One example of their ability bond with one another is the sometimes harsh conditions in just practicing.
The Rundown Facility
With their first regatta set for April 16 at Princeton University, the weather has been nice enough lately to hold outdoor practices. A Beach Channel crew practice takes them to the Mill Basin waters near the old Floyd Bennett Field runway.
Their equipment is housed at an old World War II Quonset Hut. It is riddled with bullet holes fired by soldiers from training drills held a long time ago. There is no electricity, running water or a bathroom to use. The restroom facilities are outside of the building near some wild bushes. The roof has huge holes.
Mikhail Shalamov is one player who got his first experience of the conditions last year.
“This is all we have. I didn’t expect this. I thought it would be a nice looking boathouse that I saw in pictures,” Shalamov said.
Animals, such as snakes rats and spiders are known to inhabit the place all year round. Some team members look for Sammy once they open the gated doors.
Sammy is the raccoon that has inhabited the shed from his perch on the rooftops inside the building. Once he comes down to the ground floor, Sammy can cause some damage. And
“The kids had left power bars over from last season that they forgot and the raccoons got into it and left wrappers everywhere,” Horn said. “There used to be a panel of sheetrock on the wall and they got through it.”
The players must carry the shells and the boats needed for the coaches, to the water, which takes 10 minutes. With no dock, the players must use a dirty beach, with an old sewer nearby that still chugs out sewage.
From the beach, they will then wade into water and place the shells and the boats and down in 40 degree waters. If the weather conditions are ideal with warm temps and calm winds, then the team can enjoy a good practice.
The kids know the routine but it doesn’t stop them. Matt Anesti is one player who will remain defiant in staying on the team and rowing. The tough conditions can strengthen the team’s resolve and character.
“That’s what separates from the other team. The rich people and the country areas have all this money. We don’t have a pier. We got to walk down one mile and the put the boat into freezing water,” Anesti said.
“I love this sport. It’s one of my favorite things to. I come out here and work hard every day.”
Magdalania Kochanek, a junior is very excited because she knows the hard work will eventually pay off in victories.
“It’s a good thing to be part of a team when they win. The whole experience has made us a lot stronger.”
Horn does this because he’s grown to love a sport he had no idea about nine years ago. Former coach Bill Stein taught him how to jump into a shell and row.
He has willingly grasped the nuances and intricacies of rowing because the positives do outweigh the negatives according to Horn.
Even if the teams do or don’t win a medal, the fundamentals must always be practiced.
“Technique is very important. We (the coaches, who include Scott Olsen and Jason Labiento) spend a lot of time getting them in shape. It’s the proper technique that they must do now.”
“I always say mileage builds champions.”
Horn marvels at the players who have come out of the program and keeps in touch with those who played at the college level. Amy Grosshandler, a former student who is now with the Barry University crew team in Miami, Florida, keeps in constant contact with Horn by e-mail.
It is just one reason of why he continues to remain with a program that can take at least 5 hours of practice time a day and 18-19 hours during a regatta meet. The benefits are so rewarding.
“The kids have a lot of guts to do this kind of stuff. It’s a tremendous amount of work just to have a practice and these kids are really strong to do it.”