Michael Ferry, The Foundry’s Director of Business Operations, demonstrates how kids practice rowing even before they get out on the Cuyahoga River. Photographs by Sarah Jaquay

Middle school students and their coaches beam after a morning practice on the Cuyahoga.

“Almost all of our revenues go into programming [for the kids], notes The Foundry’s Director of Business Operations Michael Ferry. The Foundry is the home of Cleveland’s community rowing and sailing center on Columbus Road in the Flats. And for those who aren’t familiar with this nonprofit, the Foundry does so much to make rowing on the Cuyahoga River and sailing on Lake Erie accessible to anyone who’s interested. It’s well worth a visit to their incredible practice rowing facility (the Tankhouse) and their sailing center at the Station on Whiskey Island.
Their mission is “to transform the lives of Cleveland’s youth through access to the sports of rowing and sailing.” The center was started because of Gina and Mike Trebilcocks’ dream to create a community-based rowing and sailing center accessible to any young person who wants to participate in these water sports. “We’d go to these competitions and notice cities like Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton were well-represented. We wondered, ‘Where’s Cleveland?’” says Foundry Executive Director Gina Trebilcock. “We don’t think everyone should have to be a member of a club to be on the water.” Gina started this quest because her daughter got interested in rowing in high school. Gina and Mike recognized growing interest from middle and high school students who want to learn to row and sail. They started scouting a location for a center that could accommodate any student who wants to be on the water. “We don’t turn away any kids due to lack of experience; who are afraid of the water or who can’t afford our programs,” says Ferry.
The Foundry started its own program, newly funded this year, through a State of Ohio reimbursable grant opportunity. This program, called Row. Sail. Dream., has been designed especially to reach underrepresented youth by providing 100 percent sponsorship for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)-qualified sixth through 12th graders in any public school system in Cuyahoga County. Row.Sail.Dream offers field trips to the Foundry; school or classroom visits by Foundry staff; partnerships with after-school and summer program providers as well as introductory and rowing and sailing programs offered year-round.
When asked if not knowing how to swim was a barrier, Ferry mentioned less than half of the students know how to swim when they arrive. But the Foundry has a partnership with the Parker Hannifin downtown YMCA to provide free swimming lessons to eligible students. It’s obvious the Trebilcocks have made a huge investment with the Tankhouse, where students can practice rowing before ever getting out in a shell on the River, plus all its other amenities, including a year-round fitness facility. The Foundry hosts corporate meetings and events in its carriage house and courtyard plus there are two airbnb rental units, Port and Starboard.
This reporter had the pleasure of meeting some rowers and their coaches as they returned from practice and couldn’t help notice the joy on their faces as they posed for pictures and explained why they connected with the Foundry. Michaela Hess just graduated from Marietta College where she rowed on the Ohio River. Another coach was Gina and Mike’s son, Kristian, who’s a recent graduate of Mercyhurst College. Kristian has been involved with the Foundry since it opened in 2017. But 13-year old Tyler Simpson, who attends Clements Boys Leadership Academy, insisted he was really their head coach. He likely will be some day.
Gina wants to emphasize middle-school students don’t have to compete. They can come to the Foundry simply to get rowing and sailing skills. Currently, Magnificat and St. Edward High Schools practice at the Foundry as well as the in-house rowing team, the Cleveland Foundry Juniors (CFJs). Any area high school student may be part of the CFJs. The Cleveland Foundry Juniors recently sent four girls and two boys to the National Rowing championships in Sarasota and a team to the high school sailing championships in San Diego.
When Gina asks rowers why they’re willing to do the work required for competition the answers seem to mirror qualities in a quote from “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown: “Harmony, balance and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you for your whole life…” She also adds, “What could be better than having a tired teenager who goes to bed at 10 p.m?” Indeed, teenagers too tired for trouble after a day on the water is every parents’ dream.
See www.clevelandfoundry.org for more information.