Roland Park pulling for Devine

Rowing: The water's been a lot smoother for one of the Reds' top coxswains since an embarrassing incident as a freshman.

High Schools

May 14, 2004|By Brendan Glaccum | Brendan Glaccum,SUN STAFF

The damage to the shell varies depending on who's recounting the incident.

Roland Park rowing coach Skip Martinko said the mishap dented it. Sarah Devine saw it a little differently.

Then a freshman coxswain on the Reds' rowing team with a wealth of determination but little experience, Devine directed her crew to shore too fast following a race and the shell ran into the dock.

"I was crushed," she said. "I thought I was quitting the sport. I put a hole in the boat and it was devastating."

But the following week she was the coxswain during a victory at St. Andrew's in Delaware, a win that gave her confidence a tremendous boost.

Now a senior captain, Devine has developed into what Martinko describes as one of the team's most reliable coxswains.

The Reds recently won the Baltimore rowing championships for the third straight time and will join the St. Paul's boys and girls and Bryn Mawr today and tomorrow when they compete in the country's largest high school regatta, the Stotesbury Cup, in Philadelphia.

Devine has a unique job in a sport that is physically grueling for the rowers. For the coxswain, who sits facing the rowers and the finish line, it's more of a mental challenge.

During races, she steers the shell, barks out the stroke count and tries to motivate her crew when muscles are burning and the rowers feel as if they can't possibly go faster.

Beyond the racing, she often helps run practices, but doesn't often go through the same rigorous regimen as the rowers.

In effect, Devine is a coach in the shell and an extension of the coaching staff in practice. And while she relishes her duties, they come with a price.

"At times, there has been tension with my responsibilities versus [rowers'] responsibilities," Devine said. "It's hard for them to see that I can feel their pain and how physically draining the sport is."

Comparing a rower's duties and a coxswain's responsibilities is essentially like comparing apples and oranges. Success of a crew in any race depends both on the ability of the rowers and the leadership of the coxswain.

"Their [coxswains'] efforts are no less a contribution, but sometimes they're seen that way," Martinko said. "That can cause a strain. It's a drawback to being a coxswain. You're a leader, you're on the team, but I'll bet you [sometimes] you're more alone than anyone on the team."

Despite some disagreements, the relationship between Devine and her teammates has been mostly positive.

"She's a really good friend to all the rowers," teammate Kristin Pelsis said. "She worked really hard to learn the techniques of coxing."

Pelsis added: "I don't think any of us can grasp what it takes to be a coxswain. She has to be a mini-coach. We rely on her so much. She's there to yell at you, but it will really motivate you when you're rowing."

Devine will attend Harvard in September and begin coxing on Boston's Charles River for Radcliffe -- Harvard's women's team and one of the nation's best programs. Radcliffe won its second national title last spring.

Devine's collegiate rowing career, however long or prolific it turns out to be, should help promote a sport that is inching closer to achieving official status with the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.

Four IAAM schools have rowing programs -- Roland Park, St. Paul's, Institute of Notre Dame and Bryn Mawr. The Reds have the largest team with more than 50 members.

According to Notre Dame Prep athletic director Mary Bartel, preliminary discussions have taken place about the Blazers forming a team.

Martinko said he believes a fifth team would allow school officials to petition the league to recognize rowing as an official sport.

"So many kids are looking for something different," Devine said. "Not everyone likes to play field hockey and lacrosse and those sports. If you're willing to work hard, [rowing] can help get kids into places."

Devine has worked hard and has come a long way since the accident her freshman year.

"[Rowing] has affected me in more ways than I could ever put into words," she said. "Rowing is much more than a sport; it's like a lifestyle. It's more than I ever thought I'd get out of coxswaining a boat."

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