New Jersey rowing crew uses Head of the South regatta as escape from Sandy devastation

Even a hurricane could not stop a high school rowing team from churning the calm waters of the Savannah River.


Four rowers representing a New Jersey high school placed their borrowed boat in the river at the Head of the South Regatta on Saturday, and for the next 18 minutes, they soaked in a sense of relief.

St. Joseph High School, in Metuchen, N.J., experienced a loss of power, neighborhoods had damaged roofs and trees were down across the school campus as a result of Superstorm Sandy. But the school’s rowing team flew out of the area and traveled to the regatta, where they finished fourth.

“After the negative stuff that happened in New Jersey, this was a really good break,” senior Brent Walker said. “It has lifted our spirits.”

Junior Nicholas Battaglia said they spent 11 days out of school before going back Wednesday, then were hit by a snowstorm. Three of the four rowers lost power at some point. They witnessed mile-long lines for gas.

The team shoveled snow on Thursday and flew out Friday. The rowers visited Atlanta before traveling to Augusta for the regatta.

Simply getting away for a weekend and competing in a rowing event was a relief for the St. Joseph team.

“The boys have been looking forward to this and it would have been a crime to cancel the trip,” said Fred Rivera, father of senior Kyle Rivera. “To get away from the area and get a mental break, it’s been great.”

The St. Joseph crew finished fourth in the men’s youth 4x with a time of 18:05.44, using a boat from the Augusta Rowing Club. Charlotte Youth Rowing won with 16:52.65.

But the two-year-old program earned much more than a fourth-place time. While on the trip, the team has been stopped and received genuine concern over the situation back home. For Fred Rivera and the rest of the team, that has made a big difference.

“It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve been getting well-wishes and support ever since we’ve been down here. It’s refreshing. It’s encouraging.”

The team will return home to school exams on Monday, its season ended with Saturday’s event. But St. Joseph will return to the water in December to prepare for the next phase of the year-round season beginning in January. Returning home with the rowers is a sense of encouragement they said they received in Augusta.

“Looking out over the river, it’s like what I picture the South to be,” said Jim Gallagher, father of sophomore James Gallagher. “There really is Southern hospitality. It’s been a great experience.”