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Druley: Rowing on the river new club’s goal

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 5:32 a.m. CST

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Gordon O’Brien eventually captained his afternoon commutes from St. Charles North to Crystal Lake Rowing Club this fall.

His mother, Chris Meldrum, had grown weary of driving the North junior. O’Brien was equally tired of doing homework while riding shotgun.

Nearly every day as he traveled home, O’Brien wondered why he wasn’t rowing along the Fox River, which literally landscaped his backyard.

At 10 a.m. Saturday at the Pottawatomie Community Center, officials from Tri City Rowing hope to attract other young athletes with the same question.

Co-founders Meldrum and Dave Miller, a Naperville marketing executive who rowed crew collegiately at California-Berkeley, aren’t sure what to expect from the initial meeting. That’s why they’re setting their goals reasonably.

“If we can get one group of four high-schoolers in a boat in the spring, I think that would be an immense win,” Miller said. “Because you can totally focus serious coaching time on a small group of people, then let that be a tipping point for a larger program.”

Miller, 42, has rowed the Fox recreationally and with fellow members of the Lincoln Park Boat Club. He considers the five-mile stretch that runs north from the dam at Hotel Baker “ideal.”

The river flows north-south, and there rarely are crowds of other boat traffic or water skiiers. The tree line along the river also blocks the wind, keeping the water “flat as glass,” Miller says.

Meldrum connected with Miller after consulting Darryl Strickler, a St. Charles resident who operates Rowable Classics, a not-for-profit endeavor for enthusiasts of wooden rowing shells. Meldrum and Miller then contacted St. Charles Park District athletic supervisor Melissa Caine, who quickly lent her organization’s support to the program catered to 13- to 18-year-olds.

Crystal Lake Rowing Club since has allowed Tri City Rowing to borrow two shells, while Rockford Rowing Club donated three ergs, or indoor rowing machines. Tri City will have a pair of both four- and eight-oared shells ready for the last week of March – its projected start date, weather permitting.

Before then, the group looks to hold indoor training and other workout sessions, all in anticipation of exploring the Fox.

“It astounds me that the community has not taken advantage of an opportunity that a vast majority of communities don’t have,” Miller said.

Tri City recently registered as a club with US Rowing, bridging the gap for Fox Valley residents who previously had to travel to Crystal Lake, Rockford or Chicago to compete. A long-term goal of the organization is to enrich Tri-Cities athletes with opportunities for college rowing scholarships.

New Trier Rowing, aligned with the high school, boasts many alumni in top college crew programs nationwide.

O’Brien only embraced rowing in August after a lukewarm history with team sports. Since then, he’s discovered many physical and mental benefits.

“You’re growing, you’re capable of doing things and you want to learn what you’re capable of,” Miller said. “This sport meets that challenge.”

Those interested in more information can email saintcharlesrowing@gmail.com.

Trading takedowns for tumbles: Several Geneva wrestlers and their coaches watched the school’s gymnastics team for the first time last week.

The Vikings’ proverbial placards didn’t quite read “10,” but they were close.

“The floor routines weren’t bad,” Geneva coach Tom Chernich said. “Generally, the only gymnastics I would watch is the Olympics, but what these girls do is really unbelievable, even at the high school level.”

Led by strong scores from Ashley Puff (35.7, first) and McKenna Merges (33.35, third) in the all-around, Geneva edged Lake Park, 139.95-136, in its Nov. 28 UEC opener.

Geneva’s matmen will hope to draw similar reviews from their Mack Olson Gym co-tenants this season. In an effort to boost attendance for both sports, the teams have agreed to support each other when schedules allow.

Hear ye, hear ye: Mayor Michael J. Gresk and the Wheaton City Council declared Thursday “St. Francis High School Girls Volleyball Class 3A State Championship Day” in a nod to the Spartans’ victory last month.

Led by veteran coach Peg Kopec, St. Francis swept Richmond-Burton, 25-21, 25-20 on Nov. 10 at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena in Normal. The championship marked the ninth at St. Francis for Kopec, the winningest prep volleyball coach in Illinois history.

• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com.

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