Harry Parker’s Legacy
Photo/Art by Jonathan Kozowyk and Henry HungRow past the Head of the Charles finish line and you’ll reach the place where freshwater once met saltwater at high tide, when the Charles still filled and emptied twice a day. Nearby, on a broad bend in the river, you’ll find the boathouse for Community Rowing Inc. (CRI), the country’s first and largest public rowing club. Its modern, environmentally designed boathouse was named for Harry Parker, widely considered the country’s premier rowing coach during his 53-year reign at Harvard. Parker, who died this past June, was a longtime champion of widening access to the river.
Founded by members of the 1980 and 1984 Olympic rowing teams, CRI created an entirely new model of rowing club. It requires no club dues, welcomes visitors to its docks, opens its rooms to community groups, and maintains public walking and biking paths between boathouse and river. It runs learn-to-row courses for all ages and has created a groundbreaking program that brings low-income and minority students to the boathouse for coaching on the water and tutoring and college counseling off it. In high season, more than a thousand people a day use the facility. Executive Director Bruce Smith—convinced that rowing offers an unbeatable, lifelong combination of self-discipline and teamwork—wants rowing clubs everywhere to fling open their boathouse doors. “There are 100,000 people rowing in the United States now,” he says. “We want one million in 10 years.” The new wave is being felt downstream, by the collegiate and private clubs that symbolize the sport’s exclusive past and by the increasingly diverse population of rowers competing here each October. “At the Head of the Charles,” Smith says, “the two tides meet.”