It was a sight likely never before seen on the banks of the mighty Wabash — a team of high school students paddling a boat, the humongous oars slicing the water under a clearing late-afternoon sky.

Parents, supporters and curious spectators gathered at Fairbanks Park Sunday afternoon for the inaugural launch of the Wabash Valley Crew, Terre Haute’s new rowing club.

After a few months of training in the weight room, the team set out in its new boat, testing the waters before competing in events next spring.

“This is just the start,” said Jack Hill, the club’s founder, standing near the boat ramp as the team rowed along. “Excited for them to have an opportunity to really create something new.”

There are just a couple non-collegiate rowing clubs in the state, and before Terre Haute’s could be added to the list, Hill had to discover the river.

The recent transplant from Dayton, Ohio, was fetching his vehicle from a shop in February and started driving First Street home. Hill is vice president and chief operating officer of Union Hospital.

When he passed Fairbanks and noticed the water, he made a U-turn into the park.

“I drove down to this ramp and looked out and just thought there has to be rowing here,” he said.

His son, Cannon, was a high school rower in Ohio. After talking about the idea at work, colleagues put him in touch with Brendan Kearns, a Healthy River Initiatives specialist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Kearns — who helped supervise the inaugural launch — took Hill, Cannon and two of Cannon’s former teammates out on the river.

Soon, Hill had made connections with Purdue Crew varsity men’s coach Dave Kucik, who sent rowers to Terre Haute to introduce the sport.

“I didn’t think anyone in Terre Haute knew very much about rowing,” said Aaron Clauss, a Purdue rower and 2012 Terre Haute South Vigo High School grad.

Purdue delivered the Wabash Valley Crew’s first boat, which is temporarily being stored at the Prox Co. on First Street.

South students Ashley Rogers, Leah Franklin, Emma Willocks and Tatum Hill are among the first members of the club. There are currently 12 members representing South and North Vigo, and Hill hopes to attract rowers from other area schools.

Willocks, a sophomore, admitted being a little nervous out on the water.

“We kept leaning, and I thought it was going to tump,” she said on dry ground, using a slang term for tipping.

The team plans to test the boat again over the next couple weekends, resume indoor training after the holidays and get back on the water next spring, said coach Ed Shew, a former Purdue rower and coach.

Hill sees the club eventually outgrowing the boat, with dreams of a youth program, assisting university-based groups and opening to all ages.

“It would be great to see it expanded to the whole community,” he said. 

Reporter Nick Hedrick can be reached at 812-231-4232 or nick.hedrick@tribstar.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @TribStarNick.

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Nick Hedrick has been a reporter for the Tribune-Star since 2015. A 2012 graduate of Indiana State, he covered government and features for the (Winchester) News-Gazette and was editor of the Jackson County Banner before returning to Terre Haute.

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