Ready, Set, Row

Engaging the Next Generation of Rowers

Staring down at the small computer display on the ergometer machine Brian Ebke, coach of UCO’s three-time NCAA national championship Women’s Rowing team, was stunned at some of the numbers he was seeing.

Ebke knows his sport can seem like a foreign language to those new to it. With talk of sweeps, sculls, power 10s and the ever-mysterious coxswain, he knows it’s easy to confuse and overwhelm someone.

But as Ebke watched a group of Oklahoma City metro students put their newfound knowledge to the test on the erg rowing machines at the Central Boathouse on the Oklahoma River, he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.

“The scores they were pulling after 20 minutes of instruction were incredible,” Ebke said. “It’s so much fun to see someone take to learning something new like that and just run with it. It lets them see what else is possible.”

Central launched the Rowing Mentorship Program in fall 2021 to introduce Oklahoma City metro students to the sport of rowing and provide them the opportunity to learn more about going to college. Students also engage in other watersport activities while learning life lessons, building confidence, leadership skills and developing effective communication practices.

A group of 19 girls from Midwest City, Star Spencer, Putnam City, Putnam City West and Douglass high schools, as well as Cooper Middle School and Capps Middle School, were selected to participate in the program. The students selected for the Rowing Mentorship Program also participate in one of the three UCO TRiO programs, funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their pursuit of a college degree.

“UCO is proud to create access to and engagement in water sports and mentorship for these young ladies,” said Patti Neuhold- Ravikumar, UCO president . “This program embodies the spirit of community, leadership and integrity we aspire to teach others. Every young girl can benefit from the investment of time and care from a woman who has made her way in the world, and it can start with UCO.”

More than 20 members of the UCO Rowing team volunteered to mentor, teach and pass on the skills they have learned during their time at Central.

“Our team was really excited to do it,” Ebke said. “I told them before we started that they were going to be the reason for why this would go well or not. Because those girls would be looking at them to lead the way.”

When introducing them to the students, Ebke said you could feel the excitement in the room.

“Definitely some oohs and ahhs from the kids,” Ebke said. “We tried to make sure they appreciated what an opportunity it was to learn from some of the best.”

Barry Lofton, executive director of TRiO and GEAR UP Programs at UCO, said it was amazing to watch these students adapt so quickly to a new situation. Not just the rowing, but also the prospect of going to college.

“These students come from difficult backgrounds and most of them just want to learn new things and feel appreciated and want to belong to something special,” Lofton said. “I love providing new opportunities for the students. I will never forget their smiling and happy faces.”

Following their rowing lessons, the students were able to tour Central’s campus and were recognized at halftime of UCO’s homecoming football game.

Lofton said the program was all about showing the students that learning to row or attending college is within their grasp if they put in the work.

Ebke said UCO’s Rowing program is built on the foundation of hard work meeting opportunities head-on.

The future of the UCO Rowing Mentorship Program looks bright. Lofton said the same girls will come back for three more lessons during the spring semester and finish the program. “The goal is to grow the program and welcome a new cohort each fall,” Lofton said. “Anytime students have the opportunity to learn and develop leadership skills that are important and advantageous to them it’s a huge benefit.”

For Ebke, he’s still always surprised at how much the sport he loves has to give.