It’s not as if it made the Drexel crew teams’ boats move faster when the University partnered with the historic Bachelors Barge Club on Philadelphia’s iconic Boathouse Row.
But it’s hard to miss the fact that, since Drexel moved in as the club’s main tenant in 2008 and then took over the facility’s management in 2013, both the women’s and men’s crew teams have experienced more success than ever before.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Senior Associate Athletic Director Dan Simmons, who oversees the rowing program.
But Drexel’s partnership with the oldest continuously operated rowing club in the country doesn’t just hold promise for Drexel’s rowers. It could represent an opportunity for Drexel faculty and staff, including those who’ve never held an oar.
Take it from Simmons, who had never rowed at all before this past May but is now a sworn convert after becoming a Bachelors Barge member.
“It is awesome,” Simmons said. “It’s definitely something you would not expect ‘til you’re out there.”
Rowing is a “lifelong” sport, Simmons said, that people can continue long after their basketball or softball days are behind them. And Bachelors Barge, on Kelly Drive, is the only boathouse on Philadelphia’s row that offers membership to anyone, as long as there’s room. For $450 per year or $225 for three months, new rowers can take lessons and use the club’s equipment.
Drexel leaders — along with the boathouse staff members, who became Drexel employees with the February 2013 management transfer — hope to add even more benefits to membership, Simmons said. And he envisions the boathouse as a resource for Drexel offices or departments, which could use it for retreats and other activities.
“We want to be dynamic in our programming,” Simmons said. “I would love it to become a place where team-building occurs. That’s a big, kind of untapped, market.”
The aim is to get more people down to the boathouse in order to increase revenues, Simmons said, which will go to continued improvements to the facility.
The next steps for Drexel and Bachelors Barge will be determined this winter, when activity slows down for the first time since the new management agreement went into effect last spring. But the University has already given the facility a facelift, from repairs to the dock to a redesign of the second-floor social room to the addition of paper-towel and soap dispensers in the restrooms (there were none before).
“We just tried to give a little shot of adrenaline when we first walked in,” Simmons said.
The facility won’t become the “Drexel Rowing Club,” though. The University doesn’t want to diminish the Bachelors Barge history and identity, which date to 1853.
Rather, Drexel’s resources and infrastructure can help stabilize the club’s operations and keep it going for years to come, assisting the volunteer board that oversees it.
The rowing programs have much appreciated the new home. Their recent run of success has included victories in the Henley Women’s Regatta, the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta and the Head of the Charles Regatta — three of the sport’s most prestigious events.
The victories may have something to do with the University’s visible support of the sport through its work at Bachelors Barge, Simmons said. Director of Athletics Eric Zillmer, Senior Vice President for Student Life and Administrative Services Jim Tucker and President John Fry have all been involved with the agreement.
And Director of Rowing Paul Savell has built on a Drexel rowing tradition that dates to 1958, when Thomas Kerr, a physician and Boathouse Row fixture, started the program. (Kerr’s wife still comes to a Drexel race each year.)
It’s an arrangement that benefits all parties. And when Simmons goes jogging on picturesque Boathouse Row on the weekends, amidst the tourists taking photos, he enjoys looking up to see the image of a dragon.
“Boathouse Row in Philadelphia is known around the world,” Simmons said, “and now Drexel has its flag down there.”
For more information on Bachelors Barge Club, visit its newly redesigned website.