20 May 2022
By Göran R Buckhorn
Göran R Buckhorn hears some good news for the Mystic River.
Hart Perry had a dream!
For many years Hart Perry had a dream of building a rowing center on the Mystic River in Connecticut. It all started when Hart and his wife Gill moved to the Mystic area. He saw great potentials for rowing on the Mystic River and he was engaged in the local Coastweeks Regatta, and he, himself, created The Battle Between the Bridges in downtown Mystic in 2002.
Hart had been involved in rowing since his school days. He coached at Kent School for many years, became the first American elected a Henley Steward, worked on regional, national and international levels and was for a time the head of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (N.A.A.O.; now called USRowing). For many years he was the executive director of the National Rowing Foundation (NRF).
Hart received both the USRowing’s Distinguished Service to Rowing Award and FISA’s World Rowing Distinguished Service to Rowing Award. Sadly, just a couple of weeks after Hart had received the FISA award, he passed away, on 3 February 2011.
Luckily, Hart’s many friends would not allow his dream of a rowing center on the Mystic River to die with him. Hart’s friends started a major campaign in 2017 to raise funds for a community rowing center in Mystic. Heavily involved in the campaign was The Friends of Stonington Crew, a support organisation of Stonington High School Crew. Mid-year last year, Stonington Community Rowing, Inc. became its a 501(c)(3) organization and now leads the fundraising efforts.
The rowing program at Stonington High School, located in Stonington which the east side of the village of Mystic belongs to, is a success story when it comes to high school rowing. Several times, the team has won the state championships and often medals at the regatta. Many of the school’s rowers continue rowing in college.
“Since the program’s inception, 34% of Stonington Crew alumni rowed in college. Since 2016, 41% have rowed at DI, DIII and club programs,” John Thornell, Stonington Crew girls head coach and director of rowing of Stonington Community Rowing, Inc., told HTBS.
A search began to find a home for the rowing center. A spot was found on Greenmanville Avenue in Mystic. The town of Stonington purchased the property in 2016 and architects were called in to design the Mystic River Boathouse Park and boathouse. When the plans were revealed the architecture of the boathouse was heavily criticized on social media and by the “locals”, who thought that the structure was too modern and not in line with a traditional New England building.
Then the pandemic hit, and everything was left in limbo.
However, the Mystic local media recently reported some good news. After receiving a $750,000 DECD grant in August, the Town of Stonington is in the process of hiring an environmental engineering firm to remediate the property with the goal of opening the park for the community at the end of 2023. And, earlier this week the community rowing center announced it has a new name – Jim Dietz Rowing Center.
Jim Dietz is a legend in American rowing. Dietz is a six-time Olympian, three as a single sculler and three as a coach. Among his many accomplishments as an athlete are 45 U.S. national championships and 37 Canadian national championship titles. He has competed at four World Championships (silver in the single sculls in 1974), two European Championships and four Pan American Games (gold in the double sculls in 1967; silver in the single sculls in 1975 and double sculls in 1983; and bronze in the single sculls 1979).
Dietz has been equally successful as a coach for college crews and national teams. He was inducted into the NRF’s Rowing Hall of Fame in 2010.
According to media, Will Castle, a member of the steering committee of Stonington Community Rowing, Inc. and former Dietz rower, asked John Thornell about recognizing Dietz through the project. Thornell proposed the “Jim Dietz Rowing Center” name, and Thornell and Castle set a fundraising goal of $1 million.
“We have raised over $700,000 towards our goal. Overall, we have raised more than half of the $2.5 million budgeted for the project. It’s exciting to see momentum building on both the park and rowing center projects,” Thornell said.
“Jim is passionate about rowing and getting people involved in the sport. His enthusiasm and experience will not only help this project become a reality. It will also help us deliver programs for people of all ages and abilities,” Thornell told HTBS.
The Jim Dietz Rowing Center will include the Hart Perry Boathouse, an indoor training center, changing rooms, a meeting area, trophy room and offices. There will also be an outdoor amphitheater and a dock.
“The honor of having the rowing center built in my name is the apex of a lifetime of enjoyment in the sport of rowing,” Dietz told media. “I have found fulfillment in every stroke taken and every athlete coached. The lessons I learned about teamwork, dedication and respect have served me for a lifetime. I hope this new rowing center will give future generations the same experiences and enjoyment that I have had in the sport.”
Jim Dietz and Hart Perry were old friends.
“I have always supported Hart,” Dietz said. “And I look forward to continue supporting him with this project.”
To learn more about this project, visit stoningtoncommunityrowing.org.