By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
When Rumson shifted its recreation spring crew program over to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in 2009, Mayor John Ekdahl called it “an experiment.”
Whether that experiment has been a success depends on who you ask.
In Ekdahl and his council’s view: no. But the perception among the approximately 50 residents and students who packed the council meeting room Tuesday night: clearly a success, and they want to keep the program at R-FH.
The two sides collided on opinion and facts about the crew program, as well as the council’s recent decision to move it out of the high school and fold it back into the borough’s rec department.
Rumson officials, who briefly cut Fair Haven from fall crew in late September before striking a deal to make the pact more equitable, say all rowing should come back under borough supervision because, frankly, that’s where it started. R-FH only runs spring crew because there is no fall season to participate in; all other seasons fall under recreation.
The rec commission, after launching crew in 2006, raised $500,000 to support it, owns all the equipment and, Ekdahl says, ran a successful program.
“Everybody was happy,” he said.
Residents at Tuesday night’s council meeting don’t quite see it the way Ekdahl does. They argued that having the sport at the high school creates a bond among students; that crew’s popularity took off once it went to R-FH; and the varsity sport looks good on college applications.
But while parents say R-FH crew is a varsity sport, and used that as a talking point to persuade the council to keep crew at the high school, Ekdahl said it’s technically considered an ‘activity.’ He said not all the points raised Tuesday were accurate, including the notion that if rec takes crew back, the team won’t be able to participate in the same regattas as it had previously. He showed redbankgreen the rowing schedule for the coming season and compared it to last season, and noted that it was, aside from one extra matchup, exactly the same.
“It’s certainly not a varsity sport at the high school, not by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We’re not missing any events. We’re just basically cutting out the middle man.
“There’s so much about it that would not change. In fact, it would virtually be the same.”
Residents and students were not sold, though.
One student, Grace Mullan, said it’s not as cut and dried to simply say crew is moving from the school to rec and everything will be the same.
“I’ve met people at school I never would have before,” because of crew, she said. “We made bonds that were unbelievable.”
Pam Lister, of Fair Haven, told the council that its decision to return crew to the rec department goes against the wishes of both the residents and athletes of R-FH.
“These kids want to row together, they want to be there as a team, they want to support each other, they want to feel the pride of being on a school team,” she said, adding that the move “flies in the face of what (parents) want for their kids.”
At the end of the meeting, Somerset Drive resident Bill Quirk urged the council to reverse its decision soon, as a new coach needs to be hired for the spring season, which kicks off in March.
“We’ll sit down and talk about it, hash it out,” Ekdahl said.
The council will not meet again this year. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 18.