The Capital District used to be a mecca for rowing. Colleges such as Union, RPI, Yale, and Harvard, among many others, used to engage in enormous races on Saratoga Lake. You probably don’t remember as this occurred prior to 1875! At that time, most rowing shells seated six people and did not have sliding seats. Rowers realized that the shells could go faster if they used their legs. This was facilitated by wearing special pants and greasing their bottoms so as to slide on a board. Upon the rapid conclusion that if one puts wheels on a special seat, not only will the boat go faster, but the problem of getting grease on the seats of the horse drawn college crew bus would be resolved. Rumor has it that after an un-named college president’s wife messed up her white dress sitting where a “rower” had been, initiated the challenge to the engineering students to solve this messy problem. The rest is history. Rowing shells were upgraded to sliding seats, but Union College did not follow suit. Rowing in this area diminished.
Rowing, in general, fell into bad times. It became a professional sport and the object of gambling. It didn’t recover until the 1930’s, but was found mainly at Ivy League and elite prep schools. It wasn’t until 1973, that rowing was resurrected in this area by Ned Bigelow of Aqueduct Rowing Club. By 1984, Aqueduct had out grown their small boathouse and Union College had just restarted their program after a brief 100 year rest! Aqueduct built a larger boathouse in 1985 to house these two programs. Two years later, Niskayuna started a youth program and eventually constructed the third bay. Since then, Skidmore, SUNY at Albany, RPI, Saratoga Springs, SCCC, and the Albany Rowing Center all started adult and collegiate programs. Youth programs expanded to include Niskayuna, Shenendehowa, Emma Willard, Albany Shaker, Saratoga, Columbia, Burnt Hills, Scotia Glenville, Schenectady, Brown School, Guilderland, and Queensbury Crew.
In the fall of 1993, 14 rowers from Burnt Hills including one from South Colonie and one from Mohonasen rowed in a club called ECAC (Erie Canal Athletic Club) under the supervision of Union College. This grew to 30 active (45 enrolled) the following spring, at which time it became obvious that Burnt Hills needed their own club. The Burnt Hills Rowing Association became incorporated in August of 1994, and has grown to over a 100 rower, four season program, that not only includes programs for youth, but also adult learn-to-row and collegiate programs in the summer.
Burnt Hills has come a long way. Construction of the long awaited new boathouse was completed in 1999, and our docks have grown to over 160 feet to accommodate three eights at one time. In the fall of 2007, we dedicated a beautiful addition to our boathouse, the Patrick C. Breslin Strength Training Facility – a year round, 4,500 square foot heated gym facility specifically designed and programmed for training rowers. We host the Spartan Sweepstake race each fall and have established a modified program which introduces the middle school students to sculling prior to sweep rowing in high school. Much credit goes to the parents and community that supports the many fund raisers the rowers conduct to purchase their equipment, and the rowers who continue to sell things. But, we would be amiss if we didn’t acknowledge the fine coaches who spend far more hours than most are aware, working with the rowers to help them achieve their goals. Many of our rowers are realizing their dreams at college due to their connection to the rowing community.
By Harry Darling