Club keeps tradition rowing with annual canoe trip

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Photos by Adam Birkan.

Grant Engle | Staff Writer
The Boys’ and Girls’ Club gave its older members an opportunity to show their leadership and social skills on the season’s only overnight trip away from Chautauqua Institution.

The annual canoe trip took 16 members from the Senior Athletic Club Group 2 on a nine-mile canoe trip down the Allegheny River Thursday. “The SAC Twoers,” as they refer to themselves, were accompanied by Club counselors, waterfront counselors and members of the senior staff.

In interviews before the overnight excursion, members of SAC, counselors and senior staff alike were ready to get the trip underway.

Margot Austin, of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., said she has been waiting to take the trip since she was a junior member of Club.

“Each year, I’ve heard the older kids that have gone say it’s a really good experience,” Austin said. “Both of my parents were counselors and they went, too. So, it’s a tradition for us.”

The trip takes the Clubbers down the Allegheny River from the Kinzua Dam near Warren, Pa., to the Buckaloons Campground in the Allegheny National Forest.

Near the halfway point of the trek, the Clubbers and staff stop to take a breather and to eat lunch. Senior staff members suggested at the pre-trip meeting that the Clubbers get to the halfway point quickly. That way, they could take a longer break to replenish and give themselves an opportunity to paddle a little more leisurely on the home stretch.

Bryce Hanson, a SAC counselor who will be assisting with supervising the trip for the third time, said the trip is important for the kids because it’s an experience those Clubbers will remember forever.

“Among them, it’s something cool to talk about,” Hanson said. “My friends and I who work here still talk about the trip we went on.”

Hanson said he and his friends entertained themselves when they went on the trip as Clubbers by trying to “fishtail” other canoes. Fishtailing is riding up behind another canoe and gently tapping the back end to force the canoe to spin out.

When Hanson and his friends were trying to fishtail another canoe, they tipped over and fell into a rocky portion of the shallow river. After they recovered, they realized the canoe had taken on water and was starting to sink. Hanson described the difficulties as “karma” for trying to fishtail the other canoes.

SAC Twoer Skyler Zarou, of Denver, Colo., didn’t seem concerned with monkeying around or pulling pranks on the river. He was ready to go and explore the river and its landscape.

“I’m excited to see the scenery. It sounds like a beautiful river,” Zarou said. “I’m kind of a nature guy, and that’s what the trip is all about.”

Anna Ertenberg is another counselor supervising the journey. She ventured down the Allegheny with Club once as a Clubber and has since enjoyed five or six more canoe trips during her 10-year stint as a Club counselor.

Ertenberg said the trip is valuable to Clubbers because it is a team-building exercise for the group of 15- and 16-year-olds. Though the trip is also fun for counselors, Ertenberg said being responsible for 16 teenagers during the trip is a lot different than being on the trip as a Clubber.

“It’s a lot more exhausting than going on it as a kid,” she said. “When I went before, I wanted to stay up all night. As an adult, I get out of the canoe and I want food and to go to bed.”

All participants signed a contract that outlined the rules and responsibilities of the trip.

Greg Prechtl, director of Club, said one of the many functions of all levels of Club is to help teach kids how to be conscientious, responsible citizens. He said the canoe trip, which usually consists of kids participating in their last year of Club, can even be somewhat of an audition for Clubbers who want to become counselors in future summers.

“A lot of kids that come through Club are looking for the opportunity to be an employee. This is a chance for us to observe them away from the campus,” Prechtl said. “It gives us a look at them in a more independent setting. We can see how responsible they are and how they interact with others.”