George Pocock Rowing Foundation and HopSkipDrive help kids access an elite sport

Playing competitive sports helps kids build important relationships, confidence, and gives them positive goals to strive for. Unfortunately, there’s a real barrier to access for many kids, either because of financial or transportation concerns.

This represents a national trend: The annual State of Play 2019 Trends report found that many young athletes are unable to continue pursuing sports they love because they’re getting priced out. The cost of enjoying the activities is just too high, and rowing is one example of a sport that’s prohibitively expensive for many children.

“Rowing is a sport that is most accessible to youth from affluent backgrounds, which historically often means white, and that is something we’re trying to change,” said Delany Pelz, the George Pocock Rowing Foundation’s Partnerships and Scholarships Manager.

Rowing is a sport that is most accessible to youth from affluent backgrounds, which historically often means white, and that is something we’re trying to change.

—Delany Pelz, Partnerships and Scholarships Manager, George Pocock Rowing Foundation 

Seattle’s George Pocock Rowing Foundation (GPRF) is addressing both issues,  making a difference in many young athlete’s lives by giving them access to the world of competitive rowing. The sport is costly, and though the Seattle area has seven boat houses, a large number compared to most cities, a very low percentage of kids get the chance to participate in the expensive sport due to financial reasons tied to equipment and transportation.

GPRF offers need-based scholarships for students who want to row, and assists student athletes by providing athletic gear and clothing, team dues, swimming lessons and transportation to and from practice if needed. Last year, around 110 students received scholarships through the foundation and its partners.

Scholarships typically go to families who fall at or below the federal poverty guidelines for the region. To find interested students, the GPRF relies on its national ErgEd Program, an indoor rowing education program that brings sets of rowing machines into PE classrooms in local schools, teaches students about rowing and helps connect them with opportunities to row.

Even with these opportunities, many scholarship recipients have difficulty getting to practices because of transportation, often because their parents or guardians  work and can’t drive them to after-school practice. For some, public transportation is also too complicated, with rowers spending up to two hours on a bus just to get from school to practice. 

Pelz started brainstorming ways to improve the current transportation arrangements, because as GPRF’s Community Partnerships and Scholarships Manager, she was tasked with booking cab rides, dropping off gear, and much more to help the student athletes be successful. 

However, she found that arranging transportation for kids via cab companies was unreliable and at times, unsafe. Drivers left kids behind, and in one instance locked the doors of the vehicle and refused to let a rider out due to payment concerns.

“We’ve had drivers not pick up kids because they assumed the kid couldn’t pay,” Pelz said. 

“When I started handling the scholarship about two years ago, I was getting really frustrated with [the cab company],” she says. “I was spending two hours a day trying to get three rides.” Pelz said that it was incredibly difficult to both arrange and change rides through the cab companies, and of course there was the more concerning issue of the drivers leaving students behind.

When Pelz heard about HopSkipDrive, she thought it could be a good partnership for the foundation. The vetted, kid-focused CareDrivers sounded like a much better transportation option for the students.

Not all students require transportation help, but several scholarship recipients now use HopSkipDrive to get to or from their practices. 

The implementation of HopSkipDrive as a transportation partner has made a big difference, Pelz said. Students like that they were picked up in a regular car, which doesn’t stick out like taking a yellow cab or bus might. One student remarked that now no one had to know his parents couldn’t take him to practices. Also, since CareDrivers are used to working with and picking up kids and teens, no riders were left stranded. Since payment is done through the app, there were no qualms about how to pay either.

“I have two athletes who had used [a cab company] the year before and the feedback from the parents is that HopSkipDrive is amazing, and consistent.” Pelz said. One athlete’s parent was especially impressed one day when the student’s school was on lockdown; the CareDriver went to a nearby corner and communicated with the student to let them know they would be waiting further away.

“A [driver from a cab company] would have left,” Pelz said. “That student’s family really appreciates the consistency, and that the CareDriver would never leave them behind.”

Even better, using HopSkipDrive has freed up all that time Pelz was spending on the phone arranging rides with cab companies. She said for the past several months since using HopSkipDrive, she’s been able to have more time to do her other job duties, and help more kids access the sport. 

Pelz, who helped steer a rowing team as a coxswain, report that rowing is a sport athletes can start at any age. Rowing bonds student athletes while giving them the opportunity to earn additional scholarships or spots on collegiate or national teams.

“I find rowing to be an equalizer; the nature of the sport is very equalizing because your boat is not going to move unless everyone is working together. There is a level of camaraderie and team that doesn’t happen in other sports.”

—Delany Pelz

HopSkipDrive is thrilled to help these student athletes tap into their full potential.

Learn more about the George Pocock Rowing Foundation, which helps kids in many ways.

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