Rogue Rowing Club is the 2017 club of the year, USRowing announced Thursday, chosen from more than 1,300 clubs across the country.
The award recognizes the club’s achievements in membership growth, community outreach, organizational leadership, expansion of rowing opportunities and volunteer development.
Rogue Rowing, formerly known as the Ashland Rowing Club, is based at Emigrant Lake near Ashland. USRowing is a Princeton-based national organization that fosters growth of the rowing community and develops Olympic champions.
Rick Brown, Rogue Rowing executive director since the summer of 2015, was excited when he heard the news.
“I am extremely honored to accept this honor on behalf of our entire rowing community,” Brown said.
“Our club has a rich history and a strong foundation that was built by many hands. We look forward to even more growth with our amazing staff, volunteers, and diverse membership,” he said.
Brown was executive director of the Three Rivers Rowing Association in Pittsburgh for nine years before taking the Ashland job.
National recognition has followed Brown during his career. The last year he was in Pittsburgh, Three Rivers won the club of the year award. And Marin Rowing Association of Greenbrae, Calif., earned the honor in 2006, Brown’s final year as interim director there.
Since the award was first presented in 2002, Three Rivers has won four times, including the 2016 award. Community Rowing of Brighton, Massachusetts, has taken the top honor three times and the Princeton National Rowing Association has won twice. Other winners include the San Diego Rowing Club and the Vesper Boat Club of Philadelphia.
Brown attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. He was interested in baseball, but turned out for rowing to get in shape and keep in shape. He never looked back.
He said he appreciates his job at Rogue Rowing.
“The nice thing about the club is they’ve built a great infrastructure,” he said. “They’re also open to change and open to growth.”
The name change, which took place in October 2016, reflects the membership.
“We want to draw from the entire valley. We started recruiting from Medford high schools for our juniors program, which has doubled in numbers of participants,” Brown said.
Some of the changes under Brown’s leadership include tweaks to programs, more indoor activities in the off season, and getting a rowing program started at Southern Oregon University.
The SOU program, less than a year old, has already shown results beyond expanding the Rogue Rowing Club membership. The SOU women’s crew had its first race in April and then won silver medals in its division in May at the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championships. Rogue Rowing provided the initial organizational leadership and provides infrastructure and coaching for the SOU rowers.
Another program added to the mix is adaptive rowing. It allows athletes of all abilities to participate in the sport.
“It doesn’t matter whether the person is blind or has a physical disability, we find ways to adapt the equipment for them. Three Rivers had one of the first adaptive rowing programs in the country,” Brown said.
Rogue Rowing also invites groups from around the country for special programs. The past two summers it has hosted a Junior National Camp for boys ages 15 to 17, with SOU providing housing. The boys experienced more than three weeks of training and coaching from Brown, his staff, and many volunteers.
The adult groups are up about 50 percent in membership. That is partly due to new “Learn to Row” classes and programs for “green” rowers — the beginners and intermediates.
Brown credits much of the growth to the members themselves.
“The best recruiting tool is an excited membership,” he said. “They get out into the community and talk up rowing.”
Brown supervises two full-time employees. During the year, there is an average of five part-time coaches — ramping up to 15 during peak times.
Brown plans to accept the award on behalf of the club at the USRowing convention, which will be held Nov. 30 through Dec. 3 in Sarasota, Florida. He hopes some board members and rowers can join him.
—Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.