As a club sport, the MSU Men’s Crew Club receives no funding from the university. This spring, each rower was responsible for $240 in club dues, which can be paid either through fundraising or out-of-pocket. The rent-a-rower program is one team fundraising strategy in which crew members do physical labor in exchange for club funding.
Members of the local community can visit the MSU Crew Club website, msucrewclub.com, and submit a request for a job. Two or more rowers can be requested, with a minimum job duration of four hours. Rental service costs $10 per hour per rower, and all money earned goes to the club.
“Our athletes make themselves available to the public at large,” head coach Bryan Pape said. “We do whatever odd jobs are needed.”
Rent-a-rower is the biggest of several fundraising initiatives organized by Crew Club fundraising chair Joe Lange. Lange, a sophomore rower, takes the requests submitted and helps assign them to available team members. He said that most rent-a-rower jobs follow a similar pattern.
“It’s primarily yard work,” Lange said. “In the fall, it’s primarily raking leaves for multiple people. In the spring, we have a lot of things concerning lawns, gardening, stuff like that.”
There have still been a number of more creative assignments. For example, students have helped families move, chopped dead trees and moved large stones.
Crew teams across the country participate in rent-a-rower programs. Senior crew member Michael O’Keefe said rowers are uniquely suited to the challenges of the program.
“Rowing is a very team-centric sport,” O’Keefe said. “We have a lot of experience working together on doing things. We spend a lot of time outside in the cold. ... Rowers are hardworking and strong.”
The Crew Club’s practice area, off Moores River Drive in Lansing, borders a tight-knit residential neighborhood. The residents of that neighborhood, including Lansing Community College professor Jim Perkins, have been frequent contributors to the team and solicitors of rent-a-rower services.
“The Crew Club is our close neighbor,” Perkins said. “With all of the residents being on the south side of the river, and the Crew Club being on the north side, we’re trying to build this connection between the neighbors and the Crew Club. And I think in the past couple of years, we’ve been very successful in doing that. I doubt there is any club arrangement in the Big Ten that has the same support from their neighborhood that we do for MSU Crew.”
Perkins said Pape often reaches out to this local community, even attending the neighborhood’s Christmas party. He said that this outreach has been very successful, as Perkins and several neighbors have become donors to the team, while other neighbors have become regular users of the rent-a-rower services.
Senior Brandon Bristow said that another important aspect of rent-a-rower is that it attracts new fans and potential donors to the team.
“There’s a family across the river who found out about us through the rent-a-rower program,” Bristow said. “Now, they come to the regatta every year. They just sit out on their dock, cheering us on while we’re practicing and stuff like that.”
Karen Owen, an East Lansing resident who recently rented four rowers to help with yard work, said her positive experience made her a fan of MSU Crew.
“The day started off with crew workers and ended with friends,” Owen said. “They are going to send the schedule for next year and we look forward to watching the team.”
The rent-a-rower program helps the team afford expenses, such as equipment. It also provides funding for three annual trips outside the Midwest. Over spring break, the team drives down to the South to practice, and in May, they compete at varsity and novice championship meets in Georgia and Pennsylvania, respectively.
The benefits of the program extend beyond funding team trips and equipment, however. Lange said the time spent working with other team members helps build team chemistry, as younger athletes get to know team members outside their clique of friends.
“Especially last year, when I was a first-year member, there were times when I would sign up to work with an upperclassman member who I may not have known as well,” Lange said. “When you spend four hours with someone doing manual labor, you get to know them better.”
O’Keefe said the program gives team members lifelong skills that extend to areas beyond rowing.
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“It teaches the team members personal skills,” O’Keefe said. “A lot of times, when you do a rent-a-rower, you don’t have your captain with you, or your boat members with you to take control. Sometimes it forces people to talk to the person who’s renting and sets things up. The responsibility is a teacher.”
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