BRIDGEPORT — An athletics program that introduces low-income Chicago kids to the sport of rowing has won a national award for its pioneering mission of diversity.
The award — named after Olympic medalist Anita DeFrantz, an African-American woman who’s been a longtime advocate for diversity in the sport — was given to program founder Montana Butsch at U.S. Rowing’s annual award ceremony in New York earlier this month.
“It’s equal parts validation and celebration. With the award, it shows we’re doing something that’s supported not just from the local level but from the national perspective. That’s highly motivational,” Butsch said.
Started by Butsch in 2007, the Chicago Training Center teaches disadvantaged teens the sport of competitive rowing. It’s free for participants.
The teams practice nearly year-round — indoors in an Englewood field house during the colder months and in the South Branch of the Chicago River in Bridgeport beginning in spring.
Beyond simply teaching rowing, the Center’s coaches focus on helping the teens with college applications and offer health and nutrition counseling. Many rowers go on to receive college scholarships.
Butsch said he's hoping to one day expand the training center's model to other American cities.
In prepared remarks read at the Nov. 20 awards gala, DeFrantz, now a member of the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee, said she was first contacted several years ago by Butsch, who presented his plans to her.
“I am certain I was not the only one to call him a dreamer,” DeFrantz said. “But now I know he’s not a dreamer. He is a visionary.”