HARVARD — Members of the Bare Hill Rowing Association left a hearing with the town’s Parks and Recreation Committee empty handed last night after it turned out the meeting had not been properly posted.
Members of the association met with the committee to discuss the balance of student rowers between those belonging to Harvard and those of Acton-Boxboro upon which renewal of the group’s agreement with the town for access to Bare Hill Pond depends.
But with an apparent split in position among committee members including that of B.J. Pessia, who was vociferous in her objections to any change in the balance of students, it was not immediately apparent which way the RecComm would end up on the issue.
The sticking point, it seemed, was plans by the association to increase the representation of Acton-Boxboro students within the group.
Although association president Terry DeWitt declined to say what the current ratio was or how his group wanted to change it, RecComm members reported that the current ratio was two thirds of the slots reserved for Harvard students and only one third for Acton-Boxborough.
According to DeWitt, there are 80 to 100 students from both school districts currently taking part in the program.
Unfortunately, there was little more information about the association and its origins on the group’s website and when asked, DeWitt declined to comment.
Information that can be gleaned from the group’s website is that the association’s rowing teams participate in many sculling events around Massachusetts and have won some contests, including a gold medal from the Massachusetts Public School Championship in 2010.
It was a similar lack of information that bothered Pessia, who spoke from experience with the association, having had a child participate in the program.
Challenging association members, Pessia criticized the group’s use of the Bare Hill beach and launch area insisting that the beach was reserved for residents only and not really for out of towners such as the students from Acton-Boxboro.
When reminded that state law allowed for anyone to use the pond for recreation purposes and that it followed that access could not be denied, Pessia broke with her fellow committee members. Shifting gears, she then accused the association of having “secret plans” and demanded to know how much was being spent on the program.
Denying they were keeping anything from the committee, association members insisted that the program has had “extremely positive” feedback from everyone.
“We’re committed to being good partners with the Recreation Committee,” declared DeWitt, insisting however, that the committee had no right to dictate how many students from each district the association needed to accept.
DeWitt ameliorated his position by noting that the two groups needed to continue to work together for continued use of the beach area where the association stores its equipment.
But it was the ratio between school districts that was of particular concern to Pessia, who expressed concern that because the Acton-Boxboro area was more populous than Harvard, with a greater pool of athletes to recruit from, sooner or later, Harvard students would begin to get squeezed out as only the best rowers would make the teams.
“It’s going to be horrible for Bromfield students,” concluded Pessia.
Trying to explain how the number of students from each district changes from year to year, DeWitt said that there was an “ebb and flow” to the association’s membership that was out of its control.
“I don’t want to see them go,” interjected committee chairman John Lee of claims that if greater numbers of Acton-Boxboro students could not be recruited, the whole program would suffer.
“Why does this have to be so contentious?” asked a member of the association who refused to be identified.
“I’m not supporting a huge team coming in and partnering with us,” replied Pessia, adding that her opinion was bolstered by members of the school administration including its athletic director all of whom were also opposed to a change in the ratio.
In support of the association’s request, DeWitt replied that if the ratio was not changed, the group might have to cut students from the program to maintain the approved balance.
With that, the meeting ended with an agreement that the committee would attempt to hold a special meeting on Sept. 24 where a vote could be taken on the issue. But if a quorum could not be had, the question would have to wait until the RecComm’s next official meeting on Oct. 1.