WLAA Crew Series: Skyline Program A Huge Success No Matter How You Look At It

Reprinted from January 2018

This is the first in a series of stories on Skyline High School crew and the rapidly growing sport in Ann Arbor.

The numbers jump out of the boat. Skyline High School … one of the best crew programs in the country? Who knew? Well, apparently a lot of people know because success is built on knowledge, teaching, dedication – passing the torch of success from one teammate to another, from one class to another, from one generation to another.

But those numbers … staggering.

The program left the dock in 2009 and since then has rowed up five National Titles, 35 Midwest Titles, sent more than 25 athletes onto college rowing teams and has a team grade-point average of 3.5.

By any way you want to measure, the Skyline crew program is an incredible success – and they not only have fun winning but also enjoy the process that takes them to the top of the leaderboard. And therein lies the key.

Did we mention FIVE National Titles?

But for those who have been paying attention, Skyline crew isn’t about numbers. While everyone associated with the program is proud of their titles and accomplishments, the big picture goes beyond wins and losses and even beyond high school.

“Skyline crew is about life lessons that go beyond rowing,” says Kit Bennett, the team’s first and only coach over the nine years the program has been rowing. “The process they go through and their experiences are ways to help prepare them for life’s challenges they are going to face down the road. It’s about them becoming quality people, good parents, good leaders in their community.”

That big picture is painted with different strokes which includes how hard work, dedication, commitment and working as a team is often rewarded – whether right away or down the road. If you take care of the preparation, the results will follow.

“Results are a bi-product of hard work,” Bennett says. “When the whole team is pulling together the results will come. This isn’t an individual sport. You have to put in the mileage and hard work long before you get in the boat in the spring.”

The Eagles have a wonderful approach to success.

“We never expect to win,” Bennett says. “We just expect to do our best. It’s all about the kids and their development as athletes and people. Winning is very difficult to do. But if we do our best we are sometimes rewarded and ecstatic with how things turn out in the end.”

Skyline’s mission statement sums it up best: “We are collectively committed to habitual excellence in the pursuit of learning our craft. Once we can hold ourselves accountable for our actions and how they affect the team, rather than the individual, we have done our job. Above all, our true desire to push ourselves beyond our limits and our compassion for one another is why we will always thrive on and off the water.”

“We put a lot of emphasis on process over outcome,” says Bennett, who also is the Director of the Washtenaw Rowing Center. “We first and foremost want the kids to enjoy the process and not worry about the outcome. We talk about it all the time how it’s about the process. We focus on working hard, passion and legacy. Those are our pillars.”

Bennett coached several years as an assistant at Pioneer before taking over the Skyline program in 2009. He is incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic about the sport, and works especially hard to increase the team diversity and accessibility of the sport to everyone, including running fundraising events for scholarships.

The Eagles’ crew program took flight in 2009 with 25 kids on the roster. This year the team has 85 athletes on the three teams: novice, JV and varsity.

“The success was pretty quick and pretty surprising considering how young we were in those first few years,” Bennett said.

In the team’s first trip in 2010 to the Midwest Championships, which includes 60 teams from all over the Midwest, the Eagles’ women’s novice lightweight four won a gold medal. The women’s novice eight won a bronze and the men’s novice eight finished in fifth place.

Crew is broken down into three seasons with Spring as the main season. The Fall is a club sport featuring “head” races such as the big Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston. The Winter season is spent on weight training and rowing machines (ergs) which helps prepare the athletes for the main Spring season which includes head-to-head races like those seen in the Olympics.

“Fall is our building-block season,” Bennett says. “It is development and teaching time and it’s about getting comfortable with the stroke. We did compete in a large race in Columbus, Ohio this fall and did much better than we ever expected. It was a nice reward for their hard work.”

The Skyline crew coaching staff also includes Morgan Utt, who coaches the men’s varsity and has been with the program since the beginning; Lindsay Davis-Brady, who coaches the novice women; Jordan Shore, who coaches the novice men; Maddie Boisvert, an assistant coach with the varsity; and Ryan Bielawa, an assistant with the novices.

Skyline hosts the Hungry Eagle indoor rowing event on Saturday, Feb 24. The event will feature 15 teams from all over the state and include novice, JV and varsity events for both male and female teams.