PRINCETON, N.J. – Four years ago, a group of women masters rowers launching their boats from a small beach at the bottom of an arena in Marina Del Ray, Calif., felt that there was a need to bring rowing to girls from the underserved neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

So they started RowLA and today, USRowing has announced that the program that now teaches the sport to more than 100 Los Angeles-area teens and assists them with school and college applications has been named the 2012 Anita DeFrantz Award recipient.

Introduced last year, the award is given annually to honor leaders in diversity and inclusion. The award will be presented at the Golden Oars Awards Dinner on Wednesday, November 14, at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

“We are thrilled, really thrilled to receive the award,” said Liz Greenberger, who along with Erin Berman and Debra Shaw founded and now direct the program. “We had felt for a number of years that Los Angeles needed to open up rowing to the community at large and to girls from underserved neighborhoods who had fewer sports to chose from and fewer resources in their school’s athletic budgets.

“We felt we had the resources to pull this together and to make it happen. We’re thrilled that it is happening and it is very nice to have all of our hard work honored in this way,” she said.

“In a city as large as Los Angeles, little RowLA is recognized as one of Los Angeles’ top twenty non-profits, and for good reason,” said USRowing Inclusion Manager, Richard Butler. “The mostly Hispanic girl’s academic rowing program is a highly sought after rowing program evidenced by the fact that three times the number of girls come to fall try-outs than can be accommodated. RowLA is proof that hard work, perseverance and vision are the key ingredients for success. I am thrilled that RowLA is being recognized for the Anita DeFranz Diversity Award.”

According to Greenberger, RowLa began in 2009 with four girls and one quad, purchased with grant money. They advertised, sought the help of local business and the community and began to expand the program. Girls now come to the program from communities across the city and in neighborhoods, “where, sometimes, just being outside is not an option due to the dangers of the neighborhood.”

The girls are taught how to row and when they are not on the water, they are provided academic support, college counseling and nutrition awareness sessions. RowLA girls race in regattas, visit college campuses and give back to the community by teaching rowing at the Los Angeles Junior Blind Olympics.

“We bring our ergs to middle and high schools in Los Angeles and our free summer camps bring in well over 125 youngsters,” Greenberger said. “The RowLA competitive team is comprised of minority students and there are six seniors now being recruited to college crew teams from Seattle to Boston, and they stay in close touch with our first graduate who attends Smith College on a full scholarship,” she said.

RowLA partners with the Los Angeles rowing community and mentors and tutors come from other rowing clubs and from the local college crew teams.

“We might be part of boat maintenance at one club and scrimmage another club all in the same weekend,” Greenberger said, “demonstrating the tremendous value of diversity and inclusion in the sport.”

The award is named in honor of Anita DeFrantz, who won a bronze medal rowing in the U.S. women’s eight in the 1976 Olympics, the first time women rowers were allowed to compete. DeFrantz was captain of the U.S. rowing team. She has been, and continues to be, a leader and advocate for women’s inclusion in sport. In 1986, the International Olympic Committee appointed DeFrantz to lifetime membership.

She was the fifth woman to ever hold a seat on the IOC and is both the first African-American and the first American woman to serve on the committee. She became the first female vice-president of the IOC executive committee in 1997.

DeFrantz led an unsuccessful effort to overturn the 1980 Olympic boycott but was appointed vice president of the 1984 Los Angeles Games Organizing Committee and helped convince 43 African nations not to boycott the games after South African runner Zola Budd was allowed to compete for Great Britain.

As a member of the IOC, DeFrantz was instrumental in getting women’s soccer and softball added as medal sports in time for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She also serves as vice president for FISA, the international governing body for rowing.

USRowing recognizes individuals and organizations for their contributions and achievements in the sport in 14 categories.

Seven of the awards will be given at the Golden Oars Dinner including the USRowing Medal of Honor, awarded to Stan Pocock; Male Athlete of the Year, awarded to Glenn Ochal; Female Athlete of the Year, awarded to Oksana Masters; Jack Franklin Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded to Kate Godwin; Jack Kelly Award, awarded to Mike Knopp; Anita DeFrantz Award for Advancing Diversity in Rowing, awarded to RowLA; and the Isabel Bohn Award for Achievement in Adaptive Rowing, to be announced Oct. 4.

Seven additional USRowing Awards will be given November 29-December 2 at the 2012 USRowing Annual Convention in Oklahoma City, Okla. They include the John J. Carlin Service Award, to be announced Oct. 8; Clayton W. Chapman Award, to be announced Oct. 9; Joan Zandbergen “Mama Z” Award, to be announced Oct. 10; Julian Wolf Award, to be announced Oct 11; Man of the Year Award, to be announced Oct. 15; Ernestine Bayer Award (formerly Woman of the Year), to be announced Oct. 16; and the Club of the Year Award, to be announced Nov. 11.

Seven Fan’s Choice Awards also will be presented at the Golden Oars Awards Dinner. They include the National Team Rower of the Year; Junior Rower of the Year; Masters Rower of the Year, Collegiate Rower of the Year; Junior Coach of the Year; Masters Coach of the Year; and Collegiate Coach of the Year. All seven winners will be announced Oct. 24.

For more information about the Golden Oars Awards Dinner in New York City, visit www.usrowing.org. To purchase a ticket or secure a table, visit http://usrowing.tix.com.

The 2012 USRowing Annual Convention and Advanced Coaches Conference is open to all individual members of USRowing. Information for membership and convention registration can be found at http://www.usrowing.org/Events/AnnualConvention.aspx.

About USRowing

USRowing is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. USRowing’s official suppliers include Boathouse Sports, Vespoli, WinTech, Filippi, Croker Oars, Rudy Project, Concept2, Nielsen Kellerman, PowerHTV and Ludus Tours. USRowing also receives generous support from the National Rowing Foundation and its corporate sponsors and partners ANXeBusiness Corp, Voxer, EZ Dock, EMCVenues and Whole Foods. For more information, visit www.usrowing.org. The USRowing National Team program relies on strong partnerships to enable continued success. New opportunities exist to support the teams through the next quadrennial, culminating with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. America Rows, which supports diversity in rowing and the USRowing adaptive programs also benefit from corporate support. For more information, please contact Beth Kohl at beth@usrowing.org.

Ed Moran, photos by RowLa. Published: October 03, 2012