The Grosse Ile High School rowing program has been around since 1989, and despite being surrounded by water on all sides, it has a big problem. The team has nowhere to really call home.
Currently, the Grosse Ile rowing team operates out of the Wyandotte Boat Club, along with six other local high schools. The teams compete for use of the indoor rowing machines, weight room times and the tank room time, which causes competition for training time and water access.
The team has also run into problems with quicker wear and tear on equipment. Included in the fee that the school pays to the Boat Club, the equipment is used by any club member during the offseason, which causes premature wear on the equipment.
So the plan was put into place; raise funds for a Boat House and Training Center that the Red Devils could call home.
Enter the Grosse Ile Rowing Club. The club is a volunteer organization whose mission is being “dedicated to supporting, promoting and facilitating supervised, instructional and competitive programs for all Grosse Ile students desiring to participate in rowing, and Grosse Ile residents who wish to experience the health, educational and personal benefits rowing presents.”
The club set out with a vision; to be able to offer financial assistance to the Grosse Ile High School rowing program as well as providing opportunities for younger rowers interested in the program throughout the community.
Eric Flessland is the president of the Grosse Ile Rowing Club and stumbled into the sport through his children. A daughter and son both graduated the GIHS rowing program and his daughter went on to row in college, while his youngest daughter is a freshman in the program.
“My involvement was like most parents who first get involved,” he said. “I supported my daughter and her endeavors and I knew nothing about rowing at the time. Slowly through that involvement, I started attending the board meetings and learning more about the rowing program as well as rowing itself.”
In 2012, Flessland was asked by the board if he would like to get involved with the purchasing of property for the new boat house, something that had been a long time coming.
“They explored several potential sites and for one reason or another, did not follow through,” Flessland said. “But a piece of property became available in 2012 and I agreed to become involved.”
That property was bought and the future home of the Boat Club was settled. The club purchased property on West River Road, just south of West Shore Golf and Country Club as the area to build a boat house and training facility. Zoning approvals from the Township have already been approved.
The waterfront portion of the site is a 30-year lease with five, 30-year renewable terms from the country club.
The only thing left to do is raise the funds. In February 2016, a GoFundMe page was started to help raise money to cover the cost of construction. The money for the property came from the general operating funds.
“We set up a separate boat house Board of Directors and are maintaining a separate bank account,” Flessland said. “We’ll operate under the umbrella of the Grosse Ile Rowing Club, but function almost as a sister, independent entity to the high school rowing program.”
The club closed on the piece of property in 2015 and construction plans have been approved. Flessland and the Grosse Ile rowing community are eager to continue the development of the boat house to benefit both the high school program and the community.
“The primary purpose will be to support the high school rowing team and the junior rowing program that we are developing, and to promote the sport of rowing.” Flessland said.
Flessland said he had no idea the physical benefits that come with the sport and is eager to help the community.
“There’s a great potential benefit to the community,” he said. “Once the boathouse is built, we also plan to offer adult learn to row to the Grosse Ile community, which would operate primarily through the late spring and summer months.”
Recently, the club has applied for a grant with the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Wilson, former Buffalo Bills owner, left the foundation to be set up upon his passing away. He left the foundation to friends with the structure of spending the funds — quite a considerable amount — by 2035.
Organizations applying for the grants must fit within the four principal support goals of the organization; two of which are children and youth and healthy communities, a nail on the head for the Grosse Ile Rowing Club.
Recently, the club applied for a grant through the program’s Southeast Michigan Community Foundation branch and was able to obtain a new boat with the funds.
Now, the larger portion of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has unlimited funding for programs applying for grants and the building of a boat house can be used for the money.
“It’s not limited to the program,” Flessland said. “It’s one of the few that will fund capital improvement and we have applied. That went in two weeks ago and we’re anxiously awaiting word to whether we will be qualified and rewarded. We fit two of his goals and I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Either way, Flessland is eager to get the construction going and have a new home for the Red Devils.
“The Wyandotte Boathouse is an excellent facility,” Flessland said. “Unfortunately, there are seven high schools out of there and it makes scheduling and coordinating very difficult. This will give us greater flexibility and eventually control of our own destiny and our own boats will be under our own roofs.”