San Miguel Academy’s rowing program may soon be better known outside the school’s Newburgh community. San Miguel will send double and quad boats to the USRowing Northeast Youth Championships in Lowell, Mass., May 21-22 in hopes of qualifying for the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla., the following month.
“I’m excited but kind of scared at the same time because of limited water time,” said seventh-grader Gustavo Laureano, who serves as coxswain for the quad boat team of four rowers and a coxswain.
San Miguel, a Catholic co-educational middle school for inner-city children in Newburgh, has seven boats. Time practicing on the Hudson River this spring has been at a premium due to cooler temperatures, wet weather and rough waters. When they’re unable to practice on the Hudson River, rowers use the 18 rowing machines at school to practice.
The boats and rowing machines were donated to the program. A grant last year from Arshay Cooper’s A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund purchased two boats and 10 rowing machines, and provided $24,000 in cash to pay coaches and compete at regattas. Cooper, author of “A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team,” started the fund to bring rowing into under-resourced communities.
San Miguel enrolls 64 students, with more than half involved in the rowing program that has been on the water for 13 years. The rowers competed for the first time in regattas last year—twice in Philadelphia and once in New Jersey.
This month’s races in Lowell will be the program’s first attempt to qualify for a national championship, which will be decided June 9-12.
“That’s the impact Arshay Cooper had on us is that everything got notched up,” said Father Mark Connell, San Miguel’s executive director and one of the rowing program’s coaches. “Our equipment improved. All of our support services improved. We were encouraged and had the resources to compete for the first time.
“That has made a big difference. The kids work hard and there’s no end game. They just work hard and we send them off to high school and many of them will row, but now they get to compete as middle school rowers.”
Father Connell said the mission of San Miguel Academy, including its rowing program, is to prepare students for high school, college and life.
“They change when they take the sport on. They embrace it,” he said. “For us, we sit back and watch this work. We see their grades go up and we’re able to get them in these competitive schools.
“We have seized on a very elite sport for poor kids to help them break the cycle of poverty. It’s working.”
Fernando Garcia, an eighth-grader at San Miguel, will row in the double boat, which has two rowers, in Lowell, Mass. In the fall, he will attend Northfield Mount Hermon School, a prep school in Massachusetts, where he plans to row.
“Sometimes when the water is really calm and we’re just rowing whether I’m in a quad or a double, I just get a sense of peace of mind,” he said. “I don’t think about anything but the moment I’m in.”
Laureano added, “I enjoy being with my teammates, having fun and racing with them…This is a sport I really want to do and it makes me happy. It helps you focus on life and be more positive. Rowing has been helping me get motivated in the classroom.”
Tito Jimenez, 22, came through San Miguel’s rowing program before attending Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn., and SUNY Maritime in the Bronx. He’s now an ensign in the U.S. Navy, stationed on the USS Blue Ridge in Yokosuka, Japan.
During a recent visit to his alma mater, Jimenez attended rowing practice.
“It’s the leadership aspect,” he said. “When you’re inside a boat, it’s five people just having that confidence in other people and doing your part. It builds that leadership in you and it helped me throughout high school, college and now as a naval officer.”
He added, “When I grew up, I believed this was it, and this was where I was going to stay. San Miguel became a resource to help me realize that there is more in life.”
Garcia said meeting San Miguel graduates like Jimenez is a great boost.
“San Miguel does so much for you,” he said. “Even with graduates, they’ve become my mentors and I’ve gained respect for them.
“It makes me feel happy. I know it’s possible to be successful through San Miguel and the other schools.”