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Structure Trades Fire Trucks for Crew Shells

As Lake Braddock senior Liz Grubbs joined her crew teammates in the narrow boat known as a "shell" during practice, she remembered the best part associated with a collaboration of efforts that resulted in their new boathouse at Bull Run marina.

"Everybody coming together and seeing the final product. In crew, you get to be part of something. I'm hoping to continue in college," she said.

Grubbs is in her last year with the team but hopes to continue at Clemson University in South Carolina. Although she won't be here next year, the new boathouse is a permanent fixture to Lake Braddock and Marshall high-school crew teams.

"It's been a real community effort," said Cindy Dahl, a teacher at Lee High School and a parent of Lake Braddock crew member David Dahl.

The boathouse tent structure started out as a shelter for the Burke Fire Department after a fire damaged their firehouse. After the fire, they used it as a temporary garage for their trucks, and once the new station was built, they no longer needed it. The Lake Braddock Crew boosters petitioned the fire department, and it donated the canvas structure.

"Somehow the Lake Braddock boosters were able to convince the county to give the team the tent," Dahl said.

Other companies and contributors, including Shirley Contracting of the interchange project, pooled their efforts for the boathouse foundation as well as preparing the land. Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) was part of the effort and instrumental in contacting Shirley.

"Shirley Contracting was so good to respond. It was a real challenge. I think it's just wonderful the kids have this opportunity. This is one that you don't ask a lot of money from schools, you [they] get out and raise the money themselves," she said.

ALTHOUGH THE HOUSE was completed in February, a ceremony marked the community efforts that contributed to the addition on Saturday, March 16.

U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th) was aware of the community efforts and was out for the dedication ceremony.

"You have a very supportive community. There are dozens of ideas out there," he said.

One of the Lake Braddock's Crew coaches, Josh Raymond, directed the teams as they put the boats in the water for practice that morning. "You can't have a boat club without a boathouse. It's essential," he said.

Bob Linn is on the board of directors for the crew team.

"A lot of people willing to help, it's a real success story," he said.

Paul Meredith, the president of the board, was the first to address the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He talked about the history of the boathouse. "We were very interested in a free boathouse. Elaine McConnell was the first stop we made," he said.

Bill Reap is also on the board of directors. "It's been everybody trying to achieve the same thing. As we evolve, the boathouse will probably evolve too," he said.

The steel-framed structure supports a waterproof canvas. The entire front is a zip-up door, and the interior is dominated by boat racks and other material. It is across the access road from the main parking lot and about 100 yards from the water.

ALTHOUGH CREW is a school sport, it is not sanctioned the same way high-school football or basketball is. Team members pay dues and conduct fund-raising drives to buy the boats and other equipment. "Spirit wear" is one area they concentrate on. That includes hats, shirts, sweat suits, jackets and bumper stickers. Everybody on the team donned one item or another as did most of the parents. The boats are priced in the $15,000 range.

"Fairfax is a county that does not support this [financially]," he said.

According to Ted Phoenix, the president of the National Capital Area Scholastic Rowing Association, the District of Columbia, Prince William County, Arlington and Alexandria Public Schools see crew as a viable sport and contribute financially in one way or another.

"Fairfax County has not made it a varsity sport," he said.

Howard Berman's 16-year-old son, Jon, is on the Lake Braddock team. He helped build the boat platforms in the house. He sees an educational aspect in crew.

"It's a total team, it complements what goes on in the classroom. One person cannot win a regatta, there's no Michael Jordan in crew," he said.

Marshall freshman Devin Mawdsley is on the team for the first time. He likes the sense of being part of a team.

"Some schools, it's like a cult. It's a new thing," he said.

Sandy Hudson's daughter Julie is a senior at Lake Braddock and a crew-team member.

"I think any sport in high school can't be seen as anything but an asset. It's made her [Julie] a very organized person," she said.

AS THE SPORT expands, the need for new venues for practice is an ongoing thing. The Lake Braddock team had 55 members last year and has 82 this year. This is the first year for Marshall's team. Sandy Run on the Occoquan River is the location of all the competitions, and it has three boathouses to cater to the teams that utilize that facility.

Jack Ruby is the director of park operations at the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which operates Bull Run and Sandy Run. "We also have George Mason University and the Occoquan Boat Club. There's just not enough room on the water, rowing continues to grow. It's become a very popular sport. It [Sandy Run] was requested for the 2012 Olympics. There's three boathouses at Sandy Run bigger than this," he said.

According to Cindy Dahl, Lee High School is in the process of forming a team as well.

BULL RUN MARINA is 10 miles from Lake Braddock on a series of twisting one-lane roads, where a few accidents have occurred in the past. The team has practice six days a week, and some precautions have been made for the commute.

"It's something we always caution the kids about," Linn said.

Hudson noted a recent accident.

"They just had an accident last weekend, three kids coming home from practice," she said.