The Virginia High School League this week is reconsidering its December decision to drop crew from its list of sanctioned school activities—a move that could slow the growth of crew at many high schools, some Northern Virginia parents say.
What that means for Madison High School's powerhouse crew program — whose boats last year earned a gold medal at the international Stotesbury Cup in Philadelphia, along with another Virginia state championship, among other accolades — isn't immediately clear.
Membership in the VHSL — a private, nonprofit organization based in Charlottesville that sets high school sports and activity regulations —comes with a number of benefits for most sports, including catastrophic insurance coverage and funding in areas like transportation, among others.
VHSL does not provide funding directly to support crew activities in Virginia, but some school systems might require VHSL qualification as a precursor to funding.
VHSL’s executive committee made the decision to eliminate crew, along with two other sports, in early December. The group plans to make a final decision about the future of crew and the organization Wednesday in Richmond.
VHSL runs most league, regional and state tournaments for many sports, including basketball, football and other sports at schools across the state; crew championships are run by the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Assocition.
In a follow-up statement addressing Patch's request for clarification, Virginia High School League's Tom Dolan said crew "was not a recognized sport in the VHSL handbook and it was not a sport that culminated in a VHSL state championship so it was removed."
Other concerns: event sanctioning and insurance, Dolan said.
VASRA President John White said he intends to be at Wednesday's hearing.
At Madison High in Vienna, and at all schools in Fairfax County, crew isn't recognized as a varsity sport, but rather, a self-supporting Virginia High School League co-ed club activity, which means the organization is supported by booster organizations and parent volunteers.
Each team’s fundraising efforts entirely support the team’s costs.
“JMCBO (James Madison Crew Booster Organization) a 501C, is aware of [the VHSL decision] and is cautiously optimistic," the group's president, Susan Kalousis, wrote in an email to Patch. "As a sport eligible to receive a varsity letter, we are working closely with the Madison High School Activity Office, who has been very supportive of crew for the past ten years, and their appropriate channels to understand potential implications to the sport and our rowing community.”
Statewide, more than 3,000 high school students are involved in rowing sports, including many blind and hearing-impaired students who may not be able to participate in other sports.
“Some programs may be dropped merely because removal from VHSL sanction indicates rowing is not a valid sport,” White explained.
Parents in Northern Virginia, notably in Mclean, are engaged in an email and public relations campaign to push VHSL to reverse its December decision, and White said more than 100 parents have sent emails in the past week.
“We have been amazed at the profoundly positive effect rowing has had on the scores of student athletes we have had the pleasure to know,” wrote McLean parents Kathy Oram and Ken Meade in a letter to VHSL. “Like many sports, rowing promotes self-motivation, camaraderie, stamina, and discipline, but in our experience rowing, at the high school level, does so to a higher degree than most other high school sports.”