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Collecting dust: UB rowing club continues to wait for decision from athletics on cut Division-I team's equipment

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Every morning that former UB Division-I rower Natalie Howk arrives to her new club rowing team's practice, she sees her old team’s equipment -- worth tens of thousands of dollars -- going unused.

“That is really good equipment that we could be using, and it is really horrible that the university isn’t doing anything with it,” said Howk, a sophomore speech and hearing science student.

After UB cut the rowing team along with three other Division I teams last year, the equipment was left at the UB boathouse on Tonawanda Creek to be stored until the athletics department made a decision about what to do with it.

Six months later, UB Athletics has not made a decision.

Meanwhile, the club team uses the same boathouse for storing their equipment and practicing, and club rowers say they need the unused Division I equipment.

The rowing club team decided to add women to its roster following the cuts, to continue to give female students an opportunity to row. Now they have nearly doubled in size. With the new arrivals, the team doesn’t have enough equipment to accommodate all the rowers. The club is renting three crew boats for $2,000 per semester while the boats from last year sit unused.

Renting remains the only option, as new boats can cost up to $30,000.

“The boats we get aren’t even women’s boats,” Howk said. “We are using men’s heavyweight boats that were made before I was even born, so it is horrible equipment that makes practicing and racing that much harder.”

The club started talking about the equipment when the Division I team was cut in late March. Club members knew that the equipment was state property so it would have to stay in New York. The Student Association helped them set up a meeting with UB Athletics months later, in mid-August.

“They told us not to touch it,” said rowing club president Matt McGregor. “Athletics said they were working with higher-ups at the state to determine what to do with it. I guess it’s a complicated situation.”

But the club doesn’t see what’s so complicated when the equipment continues to gather dust outside the boathouse.

The possibility the equipment could go to another SUNY school had crossed McGregor’s mind, yet he said he believes the school would prefer to keep the equipment at UB.

“Now they are working with SA to get the equipment to us,” said McGregor, a junior biomedical engineering student.

UB Athletics has not yet responded to a list of questions submitted by The Spectrum about the rowing equipment. Meanwhile, the team’s equipment situation remains in limbo, as the season has already started.

“Last year we could only take out two fours[boats in crew] and now we are always taking out more than 16 people every day, and that's a huge deal,” said Sadie Kratt, a sophomore environmental geoscience/geographic information sciences student.

Kratt feels new boats could not only help with needed space but also solve other team issues related to the rented boats.

“Most girls complain about the boats being too heavy,” Kratt said.

Members of the team feel the equipment issues are an obstacle to attracting and keeping new rowers. Yet the team has had a strong turnout and positive results with the new members.

Already, the women are settling into the team, even with some of them coming off the loss of the Division I program.

“It has been a lot to handle but it has been good,” Howk said. “The guys on the team have made it really easy. They took us in and made us comfortable to be here again.”

With the fall season firmly underway, McGregor plans to focus on the team and hope things turn out in its favor.

“I think that things will work out well and we will get it [the equipment] in the long run,” McGregor said. “Hopefully by next season[spring] or next year we have access to full equipment and focus on building the team and not on equipment issues.”

Thomas Zafonte is a senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com


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