Quaker Valley student helping plan ‘boat prom’ for high school rowers

Monday, May 14, 2018 | 11:57 AM

Annika Christensen doesn't think high school rowers should have to give up their prom gowns and tuxedos — and what she calls one of the most stereotypical high school experiences — to compete in their favorite sport.

Christensen, 17, a coxswain for the Three Rivers Junior Rowing team, missed her junior prom at Quaker Valley High School last year to compete in the Midwest Junior Rowing Championships. And she wasn't alone.

It was then when she came up with the idea: Why not have a prom just for high school rowers?

That's how “Boat Prom” got started. It was too late in the year to pull it off for last year.

But Christensen kept the idea in mind for this year.

Registration now is under way for “Boat Prom 2018: A Night on the Thames” for June 2 from 7:30 to 11 p.m.

“Prom is such an integral part of high school,” Christensen said.

The rowing community stretches across Western Pennsylvania, and Christensen and those helping to plan the event, are hoping to bring everyone together for a night of typical high school fun.

At Three Rivers Rowing alone there are students from 32 schools in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, said Genna Kindelberger, 18, a senior at Franklin Regional High School, who is helping organize the prom.

“Boat Prom” is not associated with Three Rivers Rowing and is being organized solely by the students.

Many rowers, like Christensen, miss their prom to compete in competitions, like the Midwest Junior Championships, that takes place in Ohio this year on May 19 to 20 — the weekend of Quaker Valley's prom. The event allows teams to qualify for US National Rowing Championships — so for rowers, it's important not to miss.

“It's always been at the same time,” Christensen said. “You just know, if you do crew, you can't do prom.”

Christensen recalls watching her Quaker Valley friends post all of their glammed-up photos on Instagram last year, while she was busy competing.

“I qualified for nationals last year, so I wasn't totally bummed out,” she said.

Kindelberger lucked out. Franklin Regional holds its prom earlier, and as vice president of the junior class last year, she helped to plan her school's prom.

“It's a high school experience that everyone should have,” she said. “Along with graduation, it's kind of the quintessential high school experiences. You're not going to have any other experience like it.”

A committee of three girls and three boys — from Fox Chapel, Sewickley Academy, Oakland Catholic, Pittsburgh Public, Franklin Regional and Quaker Valley — have worked for the last several months to plan “boat prom.”

They started a GoFundMe page and have raised $900 of the $3,500 they're seeking for the event. That was enough to book the venue — a ballroom at the Marriott City Center, and a photo booth. They're working on getting a deejay.

So far, 37 rowers have signed-up, not including outside dates.

The event is open to all junior and senior rowers.

Christensen has simple rules for the event: “No drugs, no alcohol and don't be nude.”

Tickets are $52 per person.

“Come with your friends, come with your boyfriend, come with your girlfriends, come by yourself,” Kindelberger said.

For Christensen, the event is about bringing together the rowing community — which she calls a family.

They practice 2 12 hours a day, six days a week from late August to early June. Some, like Kindelberger, travel 45 minutes each way just to practice every day.

“We spend a lot of time with our team. Our team is our family,” she said.

Christensen credits rowing for changing the self-described quiet, shy eighth grade girl into the loud, confident young woman she is today.

“I'm kind of hoping to get a nice night out with my friends and to get that stereotypical high school experience,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.