Although the PHS Crew Club is not an official Princeton High School team, many students participate in the sport as part of the Mercer Junior Rowing Club, located in Mercer County Park.
Outside of the Mercer Junior Rowing Club, PHS has its own club, which attracts many members from the Mercer team. “The passion, love, and hard work of the members is just as real as it is for every other sport at PHS,” said Caitlin Cleary ’16.
“It’s a huge commitment and the school doesn’t really promote the sport or the team,” said varsity rower Beatrice Sclapari ’14. “It’s the individuals that reach out and join on their own pure interest.”
The Mercer Junior Rowing Team is not only made up of students from PHS; other schools such as West Windsor Plainsboro High School South and West Windsor Plainsboro High School North also lend rowers to the program. “We are a pretty close-knit team despite the fact that we are from so many different schools,” said novice rower Hannah Ash ’15.
“The team dynamic is a very open one… We may all go to different schools, but I think that honestly plays no factor in our interaction with one another aside from carpooling,” Alex Birkel ’14 said. “Most of my best friends at crew are from different schools, and it is also common to see the guys and girls talking together as well. The separation between different groups at crew is definitely not enough to establish barriers between us.”
Athletes like Tom Walker ’14 welcome the opportunity to participate in a sport that allows them to meet new people from other schools. “It’s definitely refreshing to be able to leave school behind at 3:00 everyday and dive into a different world with different people,” said Walker.
Rowers are able to become close with teammates from other schools, but because PHS students make up almost half of the team and travel by bus to Mercer County Park together, there is more time for them to bond with rowers within the school. “Crew Club at Princeton High School plays an integral role of bringing all rowers together,” said Birkel ’14. “It is a great way to increase the interaction between the guys and the girls, the novice and the varsity, and the interested and the dedicated.”
According to Birkel, PHS is the only school out of the entire Mercer team that has a club dedicated to rowing. “[This] helps to bring us together as a unit and become creative in [our] endeavors to expand and support the team.” said Birkel.
The club holds meetings, bake sales, tank top sales, and is constantly open to accepting new members. “While there are some people that come to our meetings because they are interested in learning about the sport, our club is predominantly rowers who like to spend break together talking about rowing,” said Walker.
Although prospective rowers are welcome to attend club meetings at any point, the time for new members to join the team is at the beginning of the spring and fall seasons, when the novice team practices regularly.
Also, because of the large number of rowers throughout the school, many people are encouraged to join the club because of their friends and classmates, such as Hannah Kaufman ’16 and Cleary.
Some people question the rowers’ desire to participate in a sport that takes so much commitment; between three-hour practices after school with the drive to and from the boathouse, doubles practices on weekends and breaks, erg races and crossfit, running and stadium steps, rowers devote an average of 20 hours a week to practice during the season, though many feel mentally occupied the majority of their day.
Since the varsity team trains year-round, Sclapari recognized that there are bound to be days when she and her peers would rather go home that do a workout on the erg. However, she said, “It’s those hard days that build our resilience and our support because we know that the girl next to us is in just as much pain.”
“I think the great thing about rowing is that it’s so rewarding when you drop time erging or win a race,” said Ash. “The long hours of training make the reward so much better once you drop time and you know how hard you worked for it.”
“The long drive from the high school to the boathouse and the demanding schedule are turnoffs to a lot of people,” said Walker. “However, once you get into a boat and feel the power of four or eight people moving in unison and exerting themselves to the fullest of their abilities, it’s incredibly difficult to find anything else that is as rewarding and powerful as that feeling.”
“If you are not doing it wholeheartedly, then your journey on the team will not be very long,” said Sclapari. “On the other hand, what you put into the sport you get out, which is extremely rewarding.”