BY CHIP DAVIS
PHOTO BY RACHEL FREEDMAN/ROWSOURCE
A new Rowing shell—“Howard ’64”—was unwrapped in late September at the Anacostia Community Boathouse by longtime high-school and college rowing coach Patrick Johnson, a leading advocate for adaptive rowing.
The shell was donated to Athletes Without Limits by the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund, which takes its name from the award-winning Mary Mazzio film based on Arshay Cooper’s memoir.
Athletes Without Limits is a nonprofit that provides rowing programs to athletes with intellectual impairment, youth in adverse socio-economic situations, and veterans with disabilities in and around Washington, D.C. AWL is the U.S. member of Virtus: World Intellectual Impairment Sport and is led by Johnson, a board member of the Black Coaches & Rowers Association.
The new boat’s name refers to the Howard University varsity crew of 1964, the first all-Black crew in American history. Located in Washington, Howard is one of the oldest and best-known historically Black colleges and universities and was the first, in 1961, to put together a crew. The oarsmen rowed in a borrowed shell and many were novices, some barely able to swim. But Howard alumnus Howland Ware was intent on the university’s having a crew and was the nascent program’s benefactor and champion. The rowing program earned varsity status in 1962 and in 1964 Howard won the now-defunct D.C. Regatta, beating Georgetown, George Washington, and American University. Today, Howard competes in 19 Division I sports, but does not have a varsity-rowing program.
The A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund, operated under the umbrella of the George Pocock Rowing Foundation, came to be following the success of Mary Mazzio’s documentary film on Arshay Cooper’s best-selling book. A Most Beautiful Thing tells the true story of how Cooper formed the first all-Black high school crew in the gang-riddled West Side of Chicago in the 1990s after seeing a recruiting poster for rowing.
Olympic rowers Anita DeFrantz, David Banks, Aquil Abdullah, Alex Osborne, Pat Spratlen, Mike Teti, and Mary Mazzio, along with the film’s executive producer, oarsman Bill Hudson, advise the fund, which also receives support from rowing-industry leaders Concept2 and Hudson Boat Works.