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Berkeley crew up against unique challenges

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Saturday May 19, 2001

The Berkeley High crew team will compete in the state championship meet today, but they will be unique among the 15 teams racing at Lake Natoma. 

The Yellowjackets are the only crew team in the competition that is a public school varsity sport. In fact, Berkeley High is the only public school west of the Mississippi River that has crew as a varsity sport. Most high school-level teams are club sports, run by private organizations that bring together athletes from a wide region. 

In the 1960s, there were several public schools in the Bay Area that had varsity crew teams, but as schools began streamlining their athletic departments, crew was one of the first sports to go. Redwood High, for instance, had a very good team that had a strong rivalry with Berkeley High. But now the kids of Marin row for the Marin Rowing Association, a club that draws from every school in the county. But despite the smaller pool of athletes, the Berkeley High team has kept with their traditions, and are currently third in the Northern California Rowing Association, made up of 11 teams. 

“We have done well drawing just from Berkeley High, and now we’re starting to draw numbers like the bigger clubs,” Berkeley varsity boys coach Eric Christiani said. “But I’ve had to visit just about every eighth-grade P.E. class for the last three years.” 

Christiani, in his fourth year of coaching at Berkeley High, has 51 athletes on his team, with comparable numbers on the girls’ team. Those kids, he said, will draw their friends into the sport, keeping the cycle of participants flowing. 

“We tend to draw mostly freshmen, but we do get a few older kids,” he said. “I’m already getting calls from parents wanting their kids to be on the team next year.” 

Another challenge the team faces is funding. The Berkeley High athletic department kicks in a fair amount, but not nearly enough to cover everyone’s expenses. So the team has a parents organization that helps raise the rest.  

“The parent group makes running this team possible,” Christiani said. “It’s an expensive sport, so it’s always a struggle.” 

The ’Jackets are one of the few teams that doesn’t have a boathouse, so they make due with a spot at the Oakland Estuary. 

“We basically have a slab of concrete that we launch from,” Christiani said. “Our long-term goal is to put aside money for a facility, so we can put a roof over our heads and the boats.”