Fairmount Rowing Association’s Junior 16 quad was staffed by (from left) Germantown Friends sophomore Ethan Genyk, Episcopal Academy’s James Konopka and Nick Mead, and GFS junior Andrew Bair. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

With the high school crew season only recently concluded, many rowers in the area were enjoying some down time last weekend prior to the Philadelphia Youth Regatta later this month, but a pair of Germantown Friends School scullers were back out on the water for the Independence Day Regatta.

Encompassing categories for everyone from young scholastic rowers to venerable masters, the annual event has been staged (under various names) every year since 1880.

The crew roster at GFS may be limited, but enthusiasm for the sport is not, and the holiday weekend found rising junior Andrew Bair and Tigers sophomore Ethan Genyk racing in a quad for the Fairmount Rowing Association. Bair was in the stroke seat and Genyk in the bow, and in between were Episcopal Academy sophomore James Konopka (two seat) and EA junior Nick Mead (three).

Konopka lives in Roxborough and his mother, Molly, is head coach for the successful program at Episcopal, which operates out of the Fairmount club near the southeastern end of Boathouse Row.

Germantown Friends’ Bair was the sole competitor for his school when he began to race as a freshman in 2010. Working out of Bachelors Barge Club, which is known for accommodating rowers whose schools have no official crew program, he raced solo in a novice single, winning the gold medal at the Philadelphia City Championships. This spring he stepped up to the JV single, and captured a silver medal at City’s.

Bair explained that this summer, “My goals are to stay in shape for the fall season, and to improve my times. I’m always working on my balance, which is really important in a single, and I’m focusing on sitting up more and being more efficient in my stroke.”

Ergometer scores are not his strong suit right now, but his times have steadily been improving. With his physique, gaining strength is important. At 6’4”, he’s a good height for the sport, but he weighs only 155 lbs., which qualifies him to row in the lightweight category, but is a disadvantage when facing open-weight rivals in major regattas.

His schoolmate, Genyk, was a new student at GFS last fall, entering as a ninth-grader. He lives just a few minutes from Boathouse Row and his mother, Daphne, rowed for the University of Pennsylvania. Ethan was introduced to the sport through summer camps he attended in 2009 and 2010. Rowing with James Konopka at the IDR last weekend, Genyk was carrying on a family tradition, since the mothers of the two boys raced together at Penn in several different lightweight boats.

“I tried rowing because of my mother, and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Right now, I’m mainly trying to get stronger and clean up my technique.”

He played soccer and basketball this past year, but will probably give up the latter sport to prepare for the scholastic rowing season next spring. This year he was the stroke in a freshman double, with GFS classmate Greg Goldstein ahead of him in the bow seat. Rowing out of the Bachelors club like Bair, they won the bronze medal in their category at the 2011 city championships.

The success of the three Tigers has generated some interest in the sport back at school. After all, GFS is located only 10 minutes away from the start of the Kelly Drive racecourse.

Bair revealed, “We actually may get five more kids out next year, so the program is growing.”