Simsbury Rowing Celebrates 50 Years, But It Was First Team That Made History

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The Simsbury High School Rowing is celebrating 50 years as a team, one that has become a second home for many who pass through the program.

“I say it all the time that the boat house is a second home,” said Ann Carabillo, who rowed at Simsbury and has been a coach with the program since 1989.

Inside this home along the Farmington River is a wall packed with pictures that would compete with the best family portraits.

“It's funny, they're all high schoolers just like us,” said Morgan De Groot, a senior on the girls team.

Every day, De Groot and her teammates pass a half a century of memories and if that’s not enough, their coach has plenty to share, too.

“I consider myself the team historian at this point.,” said Carabillo.

As the team celebrates 50 years, alumni have come together to share stories.

“You know the first grinder sale that they did and the fundraising they did, most of which we're doing 40, 50 some odd years later,” said Carabillo.

But there’s one story from that first year, 1971, that stands out.

Two girls: Karen Jacobson and Faith Sandri planned to be coxswain for the new boys team.

“Really I had no concept that this was a problem,” said one of those coxswain, now Karen Jacobson Berndt.

“The school got wind that there were girls on the boys team,” said Carabillo. “They immediately shut them down before they even took their first strokes on the water.”

But grounding the boats put the school in high water. An article from the Hartford Courant set off a national reaction. The story was picked up by The Associated Press. Bart Gullong was the coach at the time, he said he has newspapers clippings from as far away as Hawaii.

“From the school's point of view,” said Gullong, “That opened pandora's box and it was ‘what's next?’ Are we going to have girl’s soccer? Are we going to have girl’s lacrosse?”

 “What's next?” became the foundation for 50 years of Simsbury Rowing. The boys, choosing to support the girls, rowed as a private club until they officially became a varsity sport for the school in 1974.

“It was respectful and fun and crazy and silly and all the things you should have in a team sport,” said Jacobson Berndt.

It was a family that set an example for the decades to come.

“The fact that their teammates stuck with them even though they were boys, even though it wasn't their problem,” said senior Katie Costello.

“I have spent my whole life in a boat and I can't imagine anyone telling me that I can't row because I’m a girl,” said Carabillo.

“Every day I’m on the water taking strokes and I just remind myself that this was something we earned and fought for,” said Costello. “It's incredible, it's impressive and it just makes me want to keep going too.”

You can learn more about Simsbury Rowing here.

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