VENTNOR – Not many people have the opportunity to christen a boat named in their honor. Steve Brown had that distinct pleasure on Saturday, April 15.
Brown, a longtime rowing coach at Holy Spirit, Atlantic City and Mainland Regional high schools, poured champagne on the Mainland boys’ new black varsity-eight boat, purchased in March and newly dedicated as the Steven J. Brown.
“It’s a nice thing,” said Brown, an Atlantic City resident and current ACHS vice principal. “It’s an honor, just to be remembered. It’s been awhile.”
The ceremony at Dr. John Holland Boathouse capped a day of rowing at the inaugural Back Bay Challenge Regatta, pitting the Mainland boys against their Ocean City rivals in 1,350-meter races in the “mile stretch” of the intracoastal waterway along Harvard Avenue.
Mainland won five of the six match races Saturday, including one involving Holy Spirit. The Mustangs won the varsity eight, pulling away in the second half of the race to beat the Red Raiders by more than a boat length, as well as the junior-eight and freshman-eight races.
The Mustangs’ crew included stroke Jake Babb, Matt Dorner, Ed McGettigan, Brandon Kintish, John Kelley, Ethan Engle, Brian Teague, bow Sam Tedeschi and coxswain Molly Rosado.
Mainland’s program is strong in number and improving every week, said first-year coach Eric Somershoe, who rowed for Brown at Holy Spirit and was clearly moved by the opportunity to honor his “mentor.”
“He was like an older brother,” Somershoe said of Brown. “He got you to do the right thing, guided you in the right direction, and he did that for so many of us. That big, huge laugh of his is just infectious. I’m happy and honored to go after him (as coach). He’s the founder of this program, and the founder of so many programs.”
“It was a journey, but it kind of anchored rowing in the South Jersey area,” Brown said of the Mainland program, which has produced many fine collegiate rowers, including recent Olympian Sam Ojserkis, “because before that it was only Holy Spirit and Atlantic (City) High, and now we have programs all over the place. It’s a good thing for rowing. It’s a good sport for kids.”
Brown taught and coached rowing at his alma mater, Holy Spirit, but his contributions to the Mainland program took center stage on Saturday.
“Mainland had a lot of good athletes,” Brown said. “They had a great athletic director (George Evinski). It was easy for us. We started out at the bottom, and got to the point where we were at the top. Mainland’s come a long way in crew.”
Somershoe, a Ventnor native who formerly coached at Holy Spirit, Bishop Eustace and Stockton University, said the Mainland boys program has 52 rowers this year, including 20 freshmen.
“We’re growing the program,” he said. “We made a really strong effort to get kids back that had quit, and getting a big freshman class. We’re looking to improve and grow each year.”
“It’s tough with lacrosse and the other sports in the spring,” Brown said. “Some teams suffer more than others, but Mainland seems to be going strong, and that’s all because of the coaches and parents and kids.”
Somershoe said he hopes to get other schools involved, as well as girls crews, in the Back Bay Challenge, which was held on a traditionally quiet weekend on the busy spring crew calendar.