On They Row

With determination and teamwork, Hingham High School Crew defies the odds and rows its way to victory.

By Rachael Devaney // Photography by Andy Ayer

From the sidelines, the Hingham High School Crew makes each race look effortless.

Heat after heat, as spectators look on, the public high school nine-member rowing teams (8 rowers and a coxswain) urge their boats forward, creating a synchronized, controlled dance with their oars—leaving streamlined ripples of water in their wake.

And while they’ve mastered making rowing competitions look peaceful and serene, Jack Metzger, captain of the boys Hingham High School Crew, calls each race “organized chaos,” explaining that victory requires dedicated teamwork, communication and cooperation from start to finish.

“When you’re out on the water there are many factors to take into consideration: water currents, wind and the direction of the boat,” Metzger says. “It looks easy, but we can’t breathe, we can’t swallow, and the only thing you can feel is pain. And that’s why we push through it together as one.”

Metzger is one of 120 students that train with Hingham High School Crew for three hours a day, six days a week, to prepare for weekly 5K head races (also known as regattas) in the fall, and 1.5K races in the spring. For Metzger, the serious training schedule, which spans four seasons and includes practices on the various bodies of water in and around Wompatuck State Park, as well as a strict running, spin, yoga, and erging (indoor rowing) regimen, readies his team “to win.”

“We learn how to push boundaries and I believe we are one of the few high school programs that continues to train throughout the colder weather. Our coaches want to show us that we can improve, build upon our strengths and tap into a higher level of mental toughness,” Metzger explains. “Rowing seven days a week can be mentally grueling but it allows us to break each other down and then build each other back up again as a team.”

Founded in Hingham in 2004, the rowing team has prepared its public high school students to dominate what is usually considered a “private school sport,” explains Doug McCaig, director of Hingham High School Crew. The outstanding outcomes and unprecedented wins have not only surprised coaches and collegiate athletes across the country, but have also created opportunities for youths who otherwise may not have had the chance to participate in rowing, which is usually only offered at elite institutions.

“Not only are we reigning state champions, we are also competing against the most exclusive prep schools in the country, including Phillips Exeter Academy and St. Paul’s School on the New England level,” McCaig notes. “It’s extremely unique for a public high school to do so well at competitions like the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association Championships (NEIRA) and the team’s success has attracted a lot of attention.”

Despite not having all the “bells and whistles” of a private high school team, McCaig says that it’s the heart of the team, the commitment from the coaches, and the support from parents that have really pushed the program “above and beyond” original expectations.

“The program started when a few parents invested in some used (crew) boats and they called me up and asked me what kind of program they could put together with what they had,” says McCaig. “Because of student fees, private donations, as well as significant fundraising ventures, the program can now afford to pay for six amazing coaches, and 15 boats, which is incredible considering each boat costs $40,000.”

Since the program’s inception, the boys and girls teams have grown exponentially, not only in skill level but also in opportunities. And McCaig, who began his rowing career at Tabor Academy and continued at Princeton, explains that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 made sure that no person in the United States could be excluded from participation on the basis of sex, and can’t be denied benefits or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

While the provision was set four decades ago, McCaig says it continues to open doors to many scholarships and financial aid situations for high school girls. “The provision originated with female rowers at Yale who believed they were getting disparate treatment. During meets, the girls would sit on a freezing bus, waiting for the men to shower, dry and change in the locker room because there weren’t equal facilities. Title IX ended up creating significant opportunities and athletic scholarships for women, especially within the crew world. For example, there is one spot for every 11 or 12 girls playing basketball on a collegiate team and there are one and a half spots for every girl rowing.”

Despite females seemingly having an advantage in the collegiate rowing world, Len Manning, head coach of the Hingham High School boys team, finds that both teams work together to be successful. He says the coaches instill team-wide discipline, which creates an environment built on teamwork, confidence and trust.

“We teach students that they are only as strong as their weakest link and we take that very seriously. Everything revolves around attitude and we remain supportive to each other,” Manning says. “These kids choose to work hard and everything just gels with this team. It’s fun to see them interact and feed off each other’s energy, and while the goal is to win, they give 100 percent no matter the outcome.”

Abi Kornet, novice boys coach, agrees and says it has taken structure and dedication from everyone involved to make Hingham High School Crew what it is today.

“Because we have access to the water and a huge amount of support from the parents, the town, and the community we have had the ability to build a program that’s as strong as any private school,” Kornet says. “The difference between rowing and other sports is that when you are in the boat everyone is depending on you. It’s the ultimate team sport and builds the students’ physiques, but also their confidence and their mental and emotional health. I think that’s why so many people come together to make sure that this program continues on.”

For Gillian Mehigan, a Hingham High School junior, the crew team has changed her life. Prior to her joining the ranks, she says she “wasn’t athletic at all” but found strength through her crew family. “I have developed relationships on the crew team that I would have never made otherwise and they have improved me as a person,” Mehigan says. “Even though we are all competing against each other to get a seat on the boat, we are pushing each other to our limits in a positive way. I have learned to give everything I have—not for myself—but for my teammates.”

The same goes for Molly Lipsett. While the crew team provides “significant challenges” for the Hingham High School sophomore, she says pain is what bonds the teams together.

“My older brother rowed for BC High and he always told me I should try crew because I’m the type of person that always steps up for a challenge. He was right, and I not only look forward to each practice and work my hardest, I have also met some of the best friends I have ever had,” she says. “The ties that bind us come from the pain we push past each day. Watching the other girls work hard makes me go even harder and I know that the memories I make here translate to my everyday life and will last forever.”

For more information about Hingham High School Crew, click here.

At the time this issue went to print, Hingham HighSchool Crew was preparing for the 2016 Spring Championship regatta, where schools across the state compete for the coveted championship title in the hopes of moving onto national competition. The Varsity Girls team closed the 2015 season as the reigning overall state champions for their victories in the 2015 Spring and 2015 Fall Championships. 

Comments are closed.