Just last spring, Hannah Aikman began rowing with the Everett Rowing Association. And now, a year later, the graduating senior at Lake Stevens High School is on her way to the University of Washington’s women’s crew team with a full tuition scholarship.
Call it a stroke of good fortune.
“Ever since I was about 10 years old, I’ve known I wanted to go to the University of Washington,” Aikman said. And even though other schools showed interest, “once I got on the UW campus I knew nobody was going to top the University of Washington with the goals I had and where I wanted to go in my life.”
What clinched her decision was a phone call from UW head women’s coach Bob Ernst.
“He said, ‘If I pay your tuition, would you become a Husky?’ And I couldn’t even talk on the phone with him because I was crying. … I went downstairs and told my mom, ‘They just offered to pay my whole tuition.’ I was bawling and my mom was crying. I was so excited.”
That scene repeats every year for many Everett Rowing Association (ERA) graduates. In a typical year most go on to row in college — of this year’s 16 high school seniors, 13 will row in college — with many receiving full or partial athletic scholarships, other forms of financial aid, and sometimes a combination of the two.
There is another benefit, too. For some, rowing is the key to admission to an elite academic institution when grades and/or test scores might otherwise have been insufficient.
Brooke Rogers, of Everett High School, is headed to the University of Pennsylvania. As an Ivy League school, Penn does not offer athletic scholarships, but Rogers will receive a financial aid package that will significantly lower the private-school tuition.
Rogers doubts she would have been admitted to Penn based solely on her grades and test scores. With rowing, she said, “getting me into school is pretty much what happened.”
Glacier Peak’s Holly Hudson, who will row at Washington next season, had a similar experience. No scholarship, but she was admitted despite having “grades and SAT (scores) that aren’t quite to the highest expectations for the UW. So rowing is what got me in. Without rowing, I wouldn’t be going to the UW.”
When Hudson got the call inviting her to join the Husky crew team, “I was crying on the phone. It was just the most exciting day of my life.” She will be a fifth-generation family member to attend Washington, “and it’s incredible,” she said.
Missy Fruetel, of Kamiak, will receive a partial scholarship to row at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Pa. She started the recruiting process by contacting several schools via the Internet to express her interest, and eventually was invited to Old Dominion on an official visit. Shortly after her visit, she was offered a scholarship.
“There are scholarships available for women rowers and you can go wherever you want if you’re fast,” Fruetel said. “You just have to throw yourself out there because otherwise they don’t even know you exist. You have to email them and say, ‘This is who I am,’ and then they get back to you.”
Pasha Spencer, the ERA director and a former college coach herself (Yale University and St. Mary’s College), said that rowing provides “an opportunity for a scholarship … (but) it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of communication with the (college) coaches.” Spencer uses a recruiting packet to help athletes and their parents understand how the process works.
Not every high school rower receives a scholarship, of course. College coaches scour the nation to find promising prospects, “and they’re looking to see what your potential is,” Spencer said.
Although most colleges with rowing programs have men’s and women’s teams, the gender-equity guidelines of Title IX funnel most of the scholarship monies to women. Still, there are occasional scholarships for male rowers, including Sam Helms of Snohomish High School this year. He will receive a partial athletic scholarship to attend Washington.
Helms was at a national selection camp with other top young rowers on July 1 of last year, the first day college coaches could officially contact athletes in his class.
“On July 1 we all started getting calls from different recruiters,” Helms said. “We made a little game out of it. ‘I’ve got Yale over here. I’ve got Princeton over here.’ … Honestly, it was one of the most exciting things in the world. Knowing that many (elite) schools are looking at you, it was just a lot of fun.”
Ashley Brown, from Kamiak, admits it was “really, really scary talking to those (college) coaches on the phone … but there were parts of (recruiting) that were really fun.” And the end result — the chance to row in college and receive a scholarship — made the whole experience memorable.
Brown, who will attend Loyola Marymount University, started rowing a year ago, “and I just thought I was going to be on a team,” she said. “But then I ended up making the top eight, then the top four, then I got to go to nationals, and then there was the whole college thing. So it’s nice how it all happened like that.”