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Scholastic Rowing Association makes a splash in Buffalo River

Balloons bobbed brightly Thursday evening where the renaissance was taking place at the edge of a desolate post-industrial stretch of Ohio Street in Buffalo's Old First Ward.

Across from the baseball game in Father Conway Park, beyond a bison-shaped sign that read Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association, a crowd of about 100 had gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of a white canvas arch of a building a few steps from the bank of the Buffalo River -- the club's temporary boathouse.

"We looked at 45 sites all over Western New York before we saw this one," Mark Kostrzewski, association board president, told the group. "It hadn't been used for years. The [Ohio] ship canal was filled to the brim with debris. Kids came down here to drink. We said, 'This is a great place. Who owns this?' "

It turned out to be Carl Paladino, president of Ellicott Development Corp. and currently candidate for governor. He was in New York City campaigning Thursday.

"He was excited about it," Kostrzewski related, "and he liked how we had a process to help the kids from the inner city. He spent $50,000 to $100,000 of his own money to clear the site, and he's been a sweetheart landlord."

Countless hours of work by members of the association and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Ellicott Development staffers went into preparing the site, building a floating dock on the river and putting up the boathouse.

Buffalo once had 14 rowing clubs, but there had been only one -- the West Side Rowing Club at the foot of Porter Avenue -- before the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association organized. It's the city's first new rowing club in 70 years, Kostrzewski noted, and the first one on the Buffalo River since the old Mutuals Rowing Club in the early 1900s.

The Buffalo River has advantages over the Black Rock Channel, where most local rowers train, association member Craig Thrasher said. The ice clears earlier. And it's more sheltered.

"This water is incredibly smooth," he said. "We were out today, and it was so smooth that the reflections kept us from seeing where to make our turns."

Two schools -- Buffalo Seminary and Canisius High School -- currently are rowing on the river and more are coming.

During the ribbon-cutting, association board President Seymour Knox IV introduced new Buffalo School Athletic Director Aubrey T. Lloyd III. He announced that Buffalo Public Schools are expanding their rowing program based at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, and they will be using the association facility.

"Within a few years," Kostrzewski said in closing, "you're going to see national champions coming from the BSRA."

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com