Alex Cox used to be a three-sport student-athlete. But that was before the 18-year-old Middleton High School senior joined the Mendota Rowing Club's juniors program two years ago: "I dropped all of those sports to row," she explains, before a two-hour Saturday morning indoor workout at Bernard's Boathouse in James Madison Park.
Her story echoes those of many teenage participants in junior rowing programs at the long-established Mendota Rowing Club and the upstart Camp Randall Rowing Club -- which occupy opposite sides of the isthmus but strive to make kids better athletes, better teammates and better people.
"Rowing is a team sport that's very, very demanding, physically and mentally," says MB Blanding, head coach of the CRRC juniors program and a UW rowing alum who coached the women's crew team at Columbia University for five years. "There's something about being part of a group of people and going through the highs and lows and everything that it takes to reach a certain goal together that is very powerful -- and empowering."
"I absolutely hated this sport my first week," says Georgia Curry, 18 and a CRRC captain. She's just finished a two-hour-and-15-minute practice session on Lake Monona one cool weeknight in April. "Muscles I didn't even know I had hurt, there was new vocabulary that was almost like learning a new language, and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. The hardest work I've ever done physically has happened here. But I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did."
Unfamiliar with how to even hold an oar just a few years ago, let alone what phrases like "shooting a slide" and "catching a crab" mean -- the 80 or so junior members of the MRC and CRRC compete against each other and teams throughout the Midwest. Some of the older kids have been courted by crew coaches at the UW, the University of Texas, Harvard and Dartmouth.
"I don't want to promise a ninth-grader that he or she is going to get a college scholarship," says Hal Menendez, coach of the MRC's junior boys' team and, like Blanding, a former Wisconsin rower. "But we do let kids know that there are opportunities in college that could come to them as a result of rowing -- if not a scholarship, then possibly an edge in admission to an exclusive school."
The MRC and the CRRC (which is in partnership with Madison School & Community Recreation) are composed of kids from high schools in and around Madison. Among only a few organizations in the state to offer youths the opportunity to row, their mission statements vary slightly. The CRRC emphasizes competition a bit more than the MRC, but both spend summers seeking new members for their fall and spring seasons.
The CRRC will host an open house on Sunday, May 7, from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the recently expanded and renovated Brittingham Boathouse on Lake Monona. Both clubs also offer two learn-to-row sessions in June and July for high school students. Participants in the June learn-to-row programs will have the opportunity to taste competition June 24 at the Badger State Games on Lake Wingra.
Because neither club receives financial support from area high schools or other organizations, membership fees and travel costs add up quickly. In fact, it's not uncommon for annual expenses to reach $2,500. Both organizations offer financial assistance to rowers in need, but Menendez and Blanding say they'd like to develop more opportunities for a greater variety of kids.
The high price of rowing makes junior rowers take their responsibilities seriously. "You have to have the will to work," says MRC member Griffin Petersen, a sophomore at Madison West whose older brother, Justin, rowed for the U.S. Junior National Team and now rows for Syracuse University. "I didn't have that. I was pretty lazy before I started rowing."
Mendota Rowing Club
Boathouse: 622 E. Gorham St.
Camp Randall Rowing Club
Brittingham Boathouse: 601 North Shore Dr.
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders " 10 boys and six girls " enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is famous for all sorts of things. Malls are packed with folks exchanging those holiday sweaters that don't fit just right. It's the week those same folks pledge to never again eat another frosted sugar cookie or candy cane (hence the sweater issues). It's also the week the media saturates the public with dozens of "Best of Year" lists.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.