By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Haverhill High senior Emily Lawler took up rowing when she was a freshman and now considers it to be a major part of her life.
To compete with her rowing crew, she travels to the Greater Lawrence Rowing Club in South Lawrence, where she’s the only rower from Haverhill.
Despite Haverhill’s location on the Merrimack River, the city’s high school has never had a crew team. Plans are the works to change that, however.
Lawler, 18, is leading the effort.
She gave a presentation in her classical academy class last week on how to start a crew program. The Haverhill High classical academy offers high-level classes to challenge students. Athletic Director Tom O’Brien and Superintendent James Scully sat in on Lawler’s presentation — and not just for fun.
“It’s another thing students can use for scholarships and to get into college,” Scully said at a recently School Committee meeting, while briefing members on the district’s interest in establishing a rowing program.
O’Brien said the high school is hoping to launch not only a rowing program next year, but also girls ice hockey.
“We haven’t expanded the athletic program since we started lacrosse about eight years ago,” O’Brien said. “We already have the two most important ingredients for a successful rowing and girls ice hockey program — a river and an ice rink at the high school.”
The city’s Veterans Memorial Rink is behind Haverhill High. The school’s boys team and teams from other area high schools practice and play games there.
O’Brien said students and parents have been clamoring for girls ice hockey for some time. There’s already a girl on the well-established boys team, he said.
“There’s a lot of interest in girls ice hockey, and we’d like to offer it next year,” O’Brien said, adding the Hillies might partner with Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School or North Andover High to put a girls team on the ice.
Neither of those schools has a girls hockey team, but both are interested, he said.
“We need at least 20 kids to field a good team,” O’Brien said. “We think we would get there on our own eventually, but at first we’d probably do a partnership.”
There’s not quite as much interest in rowing, but O’Brien said he’s confident a crew program could succeed at Haverhill High.
“Lots of similar schools have successful rowing programs, especially Lowell High, which has about 100 kids in its program,” O’Brien said. “I think we might get some kids who don’t play a sport to show some interest because it’s unique. Any level of athlete can try it.”
“The first year is always rough in a new sport,” she said. “But I’m confident it would build popularity fast.”
To start a rowing program at the high school, O’Brien said he needs to find a coach, a place to launch and store the boats, and about $80,000.
“I think we could find a coach fairly easily because there are several clubs in area,” O’Brien said. “Funding is the key to whether we’ll be ready next year. We’re going to put the word out and see what the interest is, then maybe do some fundraising and see if we can get some donations to get it going.”
Lawler suggested Crescent Yacht Club on the Bradford side of the Merrimack River would be the perfect location for a boat launch. She said Haverhill could buy used boats and equipment from colleges and clubs in the area. She researched many of the details for her report.
O’Brien stressed planning for both a rowing and girls ice hockey team are in the preliminary stages, but that it’s possible both could be offered as soon as next year.