On January 17, 2024, at 4 pm, the Monmouth County Boys & Girls Club in Asbury Park, showcased the award-winning documentary, A Most Beautiful Thing. Lots of people came out to view the screening of this true story of America’s first all-Black high school rowing team. Inspired by the film, Polli Schildge, a certified indoor rowing coach, has spearheaded a rowing program for kids in Asbury Park at the Monmouth County Boys & Girls Club. Monmouth University has provided Schildge with 10 indoor rowing machines, commonly known as “ergs” to enable her to start the youth indoor rowing program in Asbury Park. As a kickoff to start the program, Schildge thought it would be a great idea to show this film to get the youth motivated to want to row. Popcorn and beverages were served as refreshments for the screening.

The Monmouth University Women’s Rowing Team and students from Red Bank High School, spoke about their rowing experiences and how they got involved. They also helped demonstrate how to use the rowing machines and explained that while people tend to think that only the arms are used in rowing, strokes are really all in the legs and in endurance. The sport utilizes 86% of the muscles in your body, and 60% of that is legs.

Indoor rowing coach, Polli Schildge, demonstrates rowing techniques on an ERG rowing machine as students look on. Credit: Jeam Michel

Monmouth University students and Rowing Team members Casey Martin, Kaitlyn Rice, Erin Reynon, and Kiera Yablonsky spoke to attendees about their experiences on the rowing team. Kiera Yablonsky, a rower for the team, talked about the bonds that this sport creates. She said, “It’s a sport that’s individual, but when you finally get into a boat you need to move the boat with your teammates. We do a lot together as a team. We eat meals together, and we practice together a lot throughout the week.” Other team members had some good observations to add to the conversation. “It’s pretty much good for anything. Although it’s challenging, we all love it, we show up to practice every single day with a positive attitude.” They also expressed thoughts on learning. “There is always something new you can learn; there are friends you can make, and it’s a very good environment to be in too.” Three of the rowers were granted scholarships, while one was a walk-in, which proves that there is always room for opportunity.

It’s a sport that’s individual, but when you finally get into a boat you need to move the boat with your teammates.

Kiera Yablonsky

Schildge spoke to attendees about the opportunity that is being given to the kids in the area. She said, “If you know nothing [about rowing] or haven’t had an opportunity to row in high school, it really doesn’t matter. What we’re offering here in Asbury is an opportunity to learn to row on these machines.” She pointed out that you don’t ever have to row in water- if you don’t want to. This option gives athletes the ability to train on land, and helps improve endurance and hone skills that can later be transferred to a boat on water. She mentioned that the rowing machine also helps with other sports as well, and can be used for workouts.

Chris Seslar is the Head Coach of RFH Rowing and has been rowing for about 20 years. He referred to the sport as ‘addicting’. He said, “It’s more than just a sport, it really just becomes a lifestyle.” Coach Seslar followed up by saying that rowing teaches you a lot of different lessons, such as training on gear, to discipline. He said, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I haven’t stopped.”

Charlie is the Captain of the Red Bank High School rowing team and has been active in the sport for 4 years. He highlighted that he noticed the benefits right away. “I was introduced to this sport by my brother and now he’s in college doing it.”

Oliver is a Red Bank High School Junior who jointed the rowing team in March of last year. He said, “I love sports. I quit basketball and started rowing.” Oliver also spoke about the transition between the rowing machine and the water. He said, “The water is more fun and engaging. It’s pretty easy, but it takes time to get used to.”

Indoor rowing instructor, Polli Schildge, discusses highlights of the Asbury Park rowing program. Credit: Jean Michel
Indoor rowing instructor, Polli Schildge, operates the rowing machine for attendees. Credit: Jean Michel

The kids who attended were also allowed to try out the rowing machine and learn a little bit from Polli Schildge. The program will officially start on February 23 at 4pm at the Boys and Girls Club. It will be a 6-week program. For more information, contact Polli Schildge at [email protected].

Another FREE SCREENING of A Most Beautiful Thing will take place at the Asbury Park Library on Thursday, February 8 at 6pm:

Directed and produced by Olympic rower, Mary Mazzio, narrator and producer Common, and producers Dwayne Wade, Grant Hill, and others.

Share with families, adults, and kids, recommended 12 and up.

Dae’Sani Clarke is a 19-year-old Asbury Park resident and a rising Junior studying Journalism at Monmouth University. She has been writing for the Outlook Newspaper for the past three years. Recently, she became President of Monmouth University’s Chapter of the The National Council of Black Women. The main thing Dae’Sani enjoys about reporting is getting to know people and their stories.She believes reporters have the ability to lift voices and offer a platform for people to be heard.

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