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It was once considered an elitist sport, reserved for Ivy League colleges or the wealthy. But a group of local rowing coaches are doing their part to make the sport inclusive and accessible to everyone. 

Nearly four dozen Evanston middle school students are enrolled in North Channel Community Rowing, or NCRR.

Operating on the North Branch of the river in Skokie, the nonprofit aims to increase diversity and equity in the sport.   

IN 2020, the group’s president and co-founder Michael Wyman along with co-founder Sandra Culver began offering rowing to Evanston middle school students.  With donated equipment and a partnership with Northwestern University, NCCR introduces the students to the sport with a technique known as sculling.  

“We chose that specifically because you can set up sculling boats with four person quads and two oars,” Culver said.

Together they learn how to row in synchronicity.  

“It requires a lot of hard work and actually mental toughness and physical toughness,” Wyman said.  “It’s very aerobic”

With a 1-week summer camp and an 8-week fall session the program has already garnered much interest.  

“There are no other middle school rowing programs in the community, so what we are offering is pretty darn unique for 6th 7th 8th graders,” Wyman said.

Concerned what the kids would do once they aged out of the program, Wyman partnered with fellow rowing coach Luciana Ruiz. This past summer Ruiz, who shares the same diversity mission, launched a rowing program at Evanston Township High School. And the NCCR program is already sending new athletes her way. 

As the diversity expands among students in the NCCR program, Wyman says there still more work to be done.  

“There have only been five Black Olympians in the history of U.S. rowing,” he said. “And that’s a number we are try to play our part in and improve.”