Youth Athletics Finds a New Field On The Hudson River

The Steven (ESPO) Powers Mural was the perfect backdrop to the Youth Race at Pier 40. (Courtesy Village Community Boathouse)

BY SALLY CURTIS | As more families move into Lower Manhattan, there is an ever-increasing demand for ballfields for youth team sports. Ballfield advocates are pitted against real estate interests and developers who want commercial development and tourist attractions like the Highline. The conflict is all the more acute since it is taking place in Community District 2 that has one of the lowest open space ratios in New York City at 0.58 acres per 1,000 residents. The citywide standard is 2.5 acres.

Amidst the controversy over balancing the needs of the community with the need for commercial development, an important resource is being overlooked: The Village Community Boathouse (VCB) where a diverse group of New York City high school students row wooden rowboats in the vast and underutilized open space of the Hudson River and compete in open water rowing races throughout the Northeast.

On a sunny and cold Saturday in November, VCB hosted its annual Youth Race at Pier 40. Rowers came from four different rowing groups: Stuyvesant High School and Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, the Sound School in New Haven, and Cortlandt Community Rowing. All the groups walked away with some prizes. In the words of announcer Michael Anton, “There are no losers today.”

More than 160 enthusiastic rowers, coaches, and volunteers gathered at the boathouse in the cold to share food and their love of rowing. The crew names were the best part, reflecting a competitive spirit tempered by a teenage sense of humor: The Wet Sox (Stuyvesant); Eat My Bubbles (Sound School); Kiss My Aft (NYHS); DeeDahs (Cortlandt), among others.

Rowers at the starting line. (Courtesy Village Community Boathouse)

VCB is an all-volunteer, donation-based nonprofit organization. Incorporated in 2008, VCB occupies a space on the south side of Pier 40 where it had operated as a downtown chapter of Floating the Apple since the establishment of Hudson River Park in 1998.

Utilizing a fleet of more than a dozen traditional wooden boats called Whitehall gigs, VCB volunteers take thousands of local residents, students, and international visitors out rowing for free all over New York Harbor every year.

High school rowers are VCB’s most enthusiastic and numerous constituency. Rowing clubs from Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, City As School and Stuyvesant High School meet several times a week for rowing during the school year at the VCB boathouse on Pier 40.

Rowers racing past Pier 40. (Courtesy Village Community Boathouse)

Many of the young people who began rowing with VCB in high school return after college as volunteers, bringing with them valuable maritime skills, learned over their years of involvement with VCB.

Pier 40, located in Hudson River Park, has four ballfields that are heavily used by children of all ages from local schools and athletic clubs. The legislation that created the park calls for using the pier to generate funds to support the rest of the park. However, the dilapidated pier is in need of adaptive reuse or demolition. Advocates for youth athletics have been working with The Hudson River Park Trust and elected officials to address the needs of the community for ballfields and boathouses. Unfortunately, team sports don’t generate much revenue, creating conflict between the need to generate revenue to support the park and the needs of the community.

Like the ballfields, the boathouse on Pier 40 has nowhere else to go in Lower Manhattan. Advocates for youth athletics should recognize and value the high school rowing programs run by VCB. The boathouse on the south side of Pier 40 should be included in discussions of preserving and expanding space for youth athletics in lower Manhattan.

Sally Curtis is President of the Village Community Boathouse.