Rowing club celebrates 21 years of work, cameraderie on the water

  • Tuesday, December 19, 2017 12:42pm
  • Sports

At least two or three times a month each spring and fall, a story is bound to show up in The Beachcomber about Vashon Island Rowing Club’s Junior Crew. From articles about success at regattas to stories of junior rowers heading off to a college or university on a rowing scholarship, it is easy to see Vashon’s junior rowers are succeeding on the water and in the classroom.

The program is currently marking 21 years of history, camaraderie, hard work and character building on the waters of Quartermaster Harbor.

It all started on May 8, 1996, when Vashon Island Rowing Club’s (VIRC) coach Claire Lichtenfels and member Debby Jackson submitted a proposal to the VIRC board recommending that a youth rowing program be initiated that summer on a trial basis. The program attracted six girls and four boys. The highlight of that summer program was attending the Greenlake Summer Extravaganza Regatta.

Just a few months later, at the November membership meeting, a motion was passed to formally adopt the Youth Rowing Program as a subgroup of VIRC and empower the board of directors to govern the program.

Less than a year from inception, in the spring of 1997, there were 10 girls and nine boys rowing for Vashon. With coach Lichtenfels, the Vashon juniors were making progress. The March 1997 newsletter congratulated rowers on their success at the Greenlake Spring Regatta.

Back then, the juniors rowed three days per week in the fall and four in the spring until the annual Northwest Regional Junior Championship Regatta in May. Besides Regionals and Greenlake, the team attended Brentwood International High School Regatta for the first time, where they placed two boys’ boats into the finals. They also attended an April regatta at American Lake with Commencement Bay Rowing Club.

The purpose of Vashon Island Junior Crew (VIJC) was first formalized by an ad hoc youth rowing committee in February 1998. They wrote that the mission of junior crew was to provide youth with an opportunity to learn and improve rowing skills through an organized approach that reinforced hard work, good sportsmanship and cooperation. That mission continues to be as true today as it was two decades ago.

An important part of the rowing club, and especially the youth program, was the Vashon Park District (VPD). For the first couple of years, the relationship between the two organizations was fairly loose.

However in 1998, junior crew became an official park district program, which helped to institutionalize it within the community structure. VPD brought the additional benefits of collecting money and keeping records, hiring coaches and provided insurance coverage.

Junior crew is no longer a park’s program, but the club is still grateful for VPD’s support over the years and for the opportunity to row out of the park’s Jensen Point Boathouse.

VIJC had its first annual car wash and bake sale in 1998 and raised nearly $240. Now successfully repeated multiple times a year, these crew fundraisers can collect 10 times that amount.

By the spring of 1998, the masters and juniors had a new coach, Meg Shoch, a former VIRC master rower. She held the reigns for the next four years. After that, nine coaches led VIRC over a 10-year period before the winds blew a British/Canadian/Kiwi named Richard Parr onto the shores of Vashon Island. With his leadership came coaching with greater skill, drive and much needed stability.

The huge physical and time commitment required by crew leaves few who pursue rowing in college. Yet, about two dozen Vashon juniors have gone on to row during some or all of their college years, many with the aid of rowing scholarships.

Overall, more than 500 juniors have rowed for VIRC since 1996; 65 juniors have competed at the U.S. Youth Nationals since 2005 and 14 juniors have medaled at the youth nationals one or more times

There are many more stories to be told about rowing for Vashon. The public is invited to share some of them at the Vashon Junior Crew 21st Anniversary Celebration & Reunion on Tuesday, Dec. 26.

This two-part event will begin with an all-club and alumni row from 8 to 10 a.m., followed by a Boxing Day pancake feed from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Lewis Hall (behind Burton Community Church).

There will be special anniversary shirts available for sale (check the website for details in mid-December).

Guests are encouraged to bring pictures, stories and the camaraderie and winning attitude they cultivated in crew.

See for details, or contact organizer Debby Jackson at for further information and to RSVP.

— Debby Jackson and Ellen Call are current VIRC masters rowers, past junior program coordinators and proud moms of past Vashon Junior Crew rowers.

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