Nick Haley, head coach at the Rose City Rowing Club in Portland, came out to St. Helens High School on Monday, Dec. 4, to spend the day giving interactive presentations to Language Arts 10 students as they read Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat.

“It’s about the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the University of Washington crew team that went and so, for background, we emailed Nick and he agreed to come out,” teacher Amber Oerther said, adding that this is Haley’s second year to make the trip and the third year of teaching Brown’s novel.

Haley helped establish the Rose City Rowing Club in the early 2000s and has become highly lauded in the sport for his coaching style. His career has been covered by the likes of the Oregonian and NPR for teaching about life and “grit on the water.” At any given time, Haley and his team coach over 150 students from 30 different high schools, many of whom have gone on to win countless medals at local, regional and national regattas.

“We love rowing and we think it’s a great thing from the athletic point of view but also from the teambuilding and leadership point of view,” Haley said. “This is a fantastic book so anything we can do to kind of try and foster the students’ imagination about some of the themes that are happening in the story or whether or not they might want to try rowing, we want to reinforce that.”

To enhance the students’ understanding of the novel, Haley covered the history of rowing and how it began as a sport with the professional watermen of 18th century England. He highlighted the importance of female rowers and their pivotal contribution to ensuring women’s’ athletic programs received equal funding in universities, as well as the recent gold medal Rio women’s team who maintain the longest undefeated run in sports history. From there, he emphasized the handmade boats featured in the novel and the differences that technology has made to modern boating designs. The highlight of the presentation came when Haley allowed student volunteers to try their skills on a rowing machine in pairs. As the students tested their mettle, the strength, dedication and teamwork required in the sport was made clear … which was precisely why the novel was chosen for study.

“It’s about young men who come from a really hard background during the Great Depression. Thee kids grew up having nothing and having to work really hard, but they were able to do something really great and go to the Olympics,” Oerther said. “It’s a cool lesson to know that you can come from a humble background and still do something awesome if you put your mind to it, and I think that’s really important for our students in this community where they may not come from an affluent background or have the greatest start in life, but they can still do great things.” 

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