FALL RIVER — Put the Bay Coast Rowing Center on the map, gearing up to draw all ages and abilities to reap rewards on South Watuppa Pond, including a regatta this fall and its initial classes planned next spring.

Located on the Watuppa’s western banks a stone’s throw from Dave’s Beach and the new Atlantis Charter School grounds, a few noted principles and supporters came together for a maiden launch on a shiny Thursday morning.

“We’ve driven around the pond a million times and wondered why there weren’t boats on here,” said Daniela Roop, a rowing coach at the Narragansett Boat Club.

Kim Worrell, Roop’s rowing partner at New England and New York master’s competitions, said she lives part-time in Tiverton and there are rowers in her town and Little Compton “looking for places closer to Providence to row.”

“Something like this would really be amazing to drive to,” Worrell said, noting it’s a flat, protective area. “It’s so beautiful.”

Bay Coast Rowing Center takes to water in South Watuppa

Roop’s husband, Scott, helping her hoist their two-person scull to the pond across the center’s new 60-foot metal dock, is a world-champion rower recognized for winning men’s crew championships at Brown University and prestigious coaching awards.

He’s among an impressive list of advisers to the rowing center that include past Olympians. Both Roops, from Warren, Rhode Island, are advisory board members and would help train top tier rowers.

While Worrell and Daniela Roop were soon stroking steady oars and putting distance between themselves and the shore on the 1,550-acre pond, Joe Mullaney, the founder/CEO, a retired lawyer and the center mastermind, talked about their purpose in between boating chore logistics.

 

Envisions world-class rowing facility

Mullaney told supporters at his Westport farm a week ago the Bay Coast Rowing Center was founded as a registered nonprofit to be a “world-class rowing facility” on the South Watuppa.

The huge pond that’s three miles long and about a mile wide is distinctive from rivers that may have currents, tides, bridges and other obstacles.

Their aim is to “teach low- and moderate-income students to row while providing academic tutoring to support a path to college.”

They’ve begun working with SouthCoast YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs to generate interest joining crew teams, a sport previously unknown in the area.

“We’re working with the YMCAs to give swimming lessons to everyone that rows,” Mullaney said standing on the dock near their newly acquired coach’s boat. Fall River’s YMCA executive director, Stephanie Mancini, is one of their directors.

During spring and fall crew seasons, their goal is to recruit and accept 72 high school students — 36 girls and 36 boys — who would spend 90 minutes a day, five days a week training with professional coaches on up to 55-foot training shells.

They have a partnership in place with University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s volunteer tutors to assist low- and moderate-income students with college applications and financial aid forms in conjunction with crew training.

The students would be accepted on the basis of grades, physical ability and “a burning desire to go to college,” says the center’s introduction.

Another aim is recruiting female rowers, who if they developed talents would have scholarship opportunities to prestigious colleges through federal Title IX requirements ensuring female athletes have the same opportunities as men, Mullaney stressed.

The center plans to develop training adaptive aide and military rowing programs to benefit those with special needs with the help of advisory volunteers like two-time Olympic rower Tom Darling — Los Angeles and Seoul in 1984 and 1988 — now head adaptive crew coach for U.S. Rowing.

His first time on the new dock at the pond, Darling said Mullaney has undertaken “a great mission” to help kids in need and those in adaptive rowing like those he’s worked with. Participants would include military veterans, paraplegic athletes and others with limitations attracted to crew.

While there is a great deal to be done to recruit students and coaches for levels of rowing, Mullaney cited their progress.

 

3.5 acres leased from city

In June, the City Council leased 3½ acres of the property to the nonprofit rowing center and its directors that include several lawyers like Mullaney, and finance and education executives.

That lease is for 10 years and renewable, for $2,000 a month with 3 percent annual increases, said community utilities officials who oversee the South and North Watuppa ponds. The city owns another 10 acres adjacent to the pond.

Center members will go next week before the Fall River Conservation Commission to seek permits to remove vegetative undergrowth and enable placement of a Y-shaped offshore floating dock that would be about 250 feet long and suitable for the regatta in two months and add parking for trailers, said Mullaney and Paul Ferland, deputy administrator of Fall River Community Utilities.

“As long as they get the program stable, it seems like it would be phenomenal for the area,” Ferland said.

 

Some key pieces are in place.

Mullaney believes they have an extraordinary opportunity.

The local legislative delegation supported an expedited $300,000 environmental bond bill grant amendment that the House and Senate approved on July 30 and awaits the governor’s signature among hundreds of others.

The authorization is for a five-year bond bill that requires annual applications and release of the grant funds. Mullaney hopes they’ll be available in the first and second years.

“What an opportunity this is for young people in Greater Fall River,” state Sen. Michael Rodrigues said. “It’s an easy thing to support.”

 

Bill sponsor Schmid cites college opportunities

“What also excites me is crew is an entry to your better colleges,” said state Rep. Paul Schmid, D-Westport, who said he was happy to “squeeze this into the bond bill” at the last minute.

“It opens doors. Most people in the city have no idea about crew,” state Rep. Alan Silvia, D-Fall River, said. He noted the participation of the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club.

The local legislators, including Carole Fiola, D-Fall River, all came to the Bay Coast Rowing Center on Thursday. Fiola recalled this Watuppa property fondly when, more than 25 years ago, former Mayor Carlton Viveiros would hold community picnics that drew hundreds of city residents for an afternoon of music, food and friendship with dancing in the huge hall to be renovated and converted into a boathouse.

Fiola said they all supported the bill as part of “a public-private partnership” to work with the principles ensuring state funds are released.

Mullaney, in a detailed write-up, said they expect to need $750,000 to $1 million to complete the first phase by next spring.

He said they’ve raised about $70,000 in donations, along with significant donations of boats and equipment. He noted the 120-foot length of the boathouse would allow the center to store two 55-foot sculls end to end, holding upwards of 40 boats of various sizes.

Their recruiting for high-level training will include area prep schools and colleges that have successful crew programs or that want to begin one.

 

In its infancy with great potential

They have four new eight-person sculls and two four-person, one coach’s launch boat that was on the water that day, and will be acquiring several more before their inaugural competitive race across the pond. The launch is unique because it has low sides and the engine in the front to easily pluck boaters and swimmers from the water when needed to.

Bruce Epke was piloting the coach’s launch and is a regatta director. He’s an Olympic (1980 and 1984) rower with many accomplishments.

After a few midday activities by the dock and on the pond, Epke thanked those who participated Thursday. “We’re in our infancy. We will get bigger and strong exponentially as the next few weeks unfold.

“Only 72 days until our Oct. 13 maturation date: The Watuppa Regatta!” he said.

Email Michael Holtzman at mholtzman@heraldnews.com or call him at 508-676-2573.