Budget crisis sinks Oakland rowing program

( )

February 2, 2011 7:07:42 PM PST
Kids who row on the Oakland waterfront are about to go back to shore for good. Their crew program is shutting down in just a few days because funding has run dry.

It is hardly Oakland's most popular sport, but just about every afternoon kids, many of whom knew nothing about crew, come to Oakland's waterfront to learn about rowing and perhaps something even bigger.

"It gets you to work as a team. The boat won't go anywhere unless everybody's working together," student rower Natalie Hahn said.

It has been smooth sailing for the non-profit Jack London Aquatic League for nearly a decade. But on the streets and waterways of Oakland times are tough and the group has hit a major bump. Now, the kids that have come to love this sport will have to give it up when the boathouse closes because the money ran out.

In the last year, the program has lost 70 percent of its funding from the city of Oakland. All of the fundraising and donations these kids have tried to collect is just not enough to keep these boats on the water.

Chad Reid is part crew coach -- part life coach.

"There's still a lot of athletes that will be left without it. They're discouraged by the whole thing and may not continue the sport, which is really unfortunate," he said.

The lucky students can move on to more expensive teams, but the many kids on scholarships may have to hang up their oars.

"For the kids, I think it's a travesty. We're really sorry that the program can't continue, but we had to do the prudent thing," board member Fred Brown said.

"I was hoping to get a scholarship to go to college," student rower Seyndina Seck.

Those were the long-term goals for Seck but now, for these kids, it's just about rowing until they can't row anymore.

"And now that this is our last week, I just want to be with the team," Seck said.