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(HOST) Recently, commentator John Morton investigated a sport that combines physical challenge with the added attraction of just being on the water very early in the morning.

(MORTON) It was pitch dark when my wife and I stumbled out of bed. We dressed in warm clothes, poured coffee and, with little conversation, headed to the car.

For decades, I’d enjoyed seeing delicate rowing shells, gliding silently through the early morning fog on the nearby Connecticut River. Recently, I had run into Fred Cressman, a neighbor, who, after years of coaching collegiate oarsmen in New York state, had returned to Vermont and was quickly recruited to help manage an exploding interest in rowing in the Upper Valley.

Crew has become the most popular high school sport in the Dres- den School District of Hanover, NH and Norwich, VT, attracting 123 students. Fred had invited Kay and me to observe a workout. Since the high school team shared the Dartmouth crew facilities, they began their workouts at 5:10 am, finishing before the college rowers arrived.

Sitting in the vacant parking lot in the predawn stillness, I was afraid we had arrived on the wrong day. Then, magically, head- lights appeared. Coaches wearing foul weather gear and holding clipboards hopped out of trucks. Groggy students from surround- ing towns, piled out of vans. Although many appeared to be sleep- walking, the rowers took their places alongside the needle-like, carbon fiber shells, some costing $35,000.

At their coxswain’s command, the athletes hoisted the boat off its storage rack and marched it down to the dock. Other students hauled armloads of long oars. These represent a wonderful Ver- mont connection since, for decades, the majority of competitive oars, world wide, have been produced by Concept II in Morrisville.

In minutes, the athletes were in their boats, the coaches in their launches, and the workout was underway.

For much of the practice, Fred shouted technical observations to his rowers through a conical megaphone. Then he instructed the coxswains to position the boats for a timed exercise. Stopwatch in hand, the coach gave a countdown, and the 58-foot needles, each powered by 1,200 pounds of high school freshmen, surged through the water. Even these novice boys, rowing together for only a few weeks, when synchronized and pulling for all they were worth, made the effort seem more like art than sport.

When asked after the workout what drew them to rowing, some athletes mentioned being part of a closely knit team. There are no stars in rowing; individual effort becomes an indistinguishable com- ponent of the team result. But all the students agreed a major attraction is simply being on the river, with coaches and team- mates, experiencing the sunrise while everyone else is still in bed.

This is John Morton in Thetford.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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