Students in graduation

Coach Craig White’s team is one of five rowing programs to receive National Grant 

July 2021

The St. Benedict’s Prep crew team has been selected as one of five recipients for a national grant announced by Arshay Cooper and the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund (AMBTIF) to provide greater access to the sport of rowing among underserved students. The $75,000 gift will enable the St. Benedict’s crew program, now entering its 11th year, to extend the sport to more Newark area students and to take the burgeoning program to the next level of excellence. This is the inaugural year of funding from the AMBTIF, which is housed as its own fund under the umbrella of the George Pocock Rowing Foundation. 

  Arshay Cooper (left) discusses rowing with SBP students

“Talent is everywhere, access and opportunities are not. The moment I wrapped my hands around those oars, my life was never the same,” said author and rower Arshay Cooper on the reasons for creating the AMBTIF and wanting more youth to have the opportunity to row. Cooper is the author of A Most Beautiful Thing, a memoir of his time as a member of the first all African American school rowing team from the West Side of Chicago, and the subject of the award-winning documentary of the same name. 

Crew is an expensive sport that is difficult for urban schools to fund. The AMBTIF gift brings critical resources and equipment to Gray Bee crew, which in turn will make rowing more accessible to youth from in and around Newark. The grant includes a stipend to bolster the coaching staff of Head Coach Craig White ’04, assistant coaches Hannah Stafford and Eric Lombeyda ’15, allowing the team to hold practices indoors and at the Kearny Boathouse simultaneously, while providing coaches more time to focus on each rower. The grant also provides 10 new Concept 2 ergometers, plus a pair of HUDSON rowing shells and Concept 2 oars. Gray Bees will utilize the new two-man boats and oars to train and compete in events that hadn’t previously been possible. In addition, the grant will help underwrite expenses such as travel to regattas and college visits for seniors who plan to continue rowing after St. Benedict’s. 

The AMBTIF also connects Coach White’s program to the wider world of rowing, increasing the potential to expand the program, raise additional funds and achieve the longer-term goal of securing a boathouse. “We will have access to accomplished people in the sport, people we can turn to for training advice, or seminars with our kids, as well as advocates who can help us raise our profile and bring more money into the program,” said White. “We are so grateful to Arshay and the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund. This gift is going to reap huge benefits for the kids and their ability to grow in the sport of rowing.” 

The gift comes amidst other significant developments for Gray Bee crew. At the 2021 Stotesbury Cup Regatta in May, the St. Benedict’s junior eight boat reached the semifinals for the first time in program history. Three rowers from the boat – Jayden Dasher, Alvaro Paulin and Yamil Harris – were the first Gray Bees invited to the Olympic Development Program (ODP) camp operated by US Rowing in Florida this summer.

Athletic Director Tom Leahy ’77 sees a direct correlation between investments in Gray Bee crew and the performance of the team. “The more resources and opportunities we’re able to give to the crew program and the kids, the better they’ve done,” he stated. The AD also noted that the AMBTIF will help St. Benedict’s expand crew to the Middle Division (Grades 6-8) and the Girls Prep Division. “The impact will be tremendous,” he predicted. “The more kids that have exposure to rowing, the more kids we can get on the river and have multiple practices going on at once, the better you get at it. This gift will take us to the next level.”