Rowing and education at Australia’s Head of the Schoolgirls
The annual Head of the Schoolgirls Regatta, HOSG, in the Australian state of Victoria is an inspirational sight, buzzing with over 2100 schoolgirls racing and with many more supporters cheering from the sidelines.
More than 45 high schools across Victoria competed in the three-day event with 10,000 spectators packing the banks of the Barwon River in Geelong, for Sunday’s finals. School colours were worn proudly and cheering squads lined the Barwon for the event, which is dubbed the premier rowing regatta for school-aged girls in Australia and the largest single-gender rowing regatta in the Southern Hemisphere and possibly beyond.
The HOSG is contested in singles, doubles, fours, quads and eights over 1000m for the Year 9 and 10 events or 1500m for the Open events. It is the highlight of the year in Victorian school rowing.
“It is a really special event with so many female schools united,” says dual Olympian and Melbourne Girls’ Grammar school coach Alexandra Hagan. “I have been in rowing for 14 years and I have never been involved with anything like this. We get massive numbers participating and I have never seen thousand of spectators turn up at a regatta just for females.”
“Coaching schoolgirls at an event like this is a perfect opportunity to get people involved with a national team rowing background, to pass on the experience, talk to school kids and to tell them about the opportunities the sport offers and the friendship it creates throughout your life,” says Hagan.
“Alex has been amazing, she has done really well in rowing and is such a powerful woman in sport and we love having her at Melbourne Girls. This regatta really is something else. It’s so good and so unique and everyone looks forward to it throughout the whole season,” says Melbourne Girls rower Millie Perkins.
“No matter if I continue rowing after school or not, I like the sound of the fact that there are now more women spots in rowing and equal numbers at Olympic Games. That’s what it’s supposed to be like,” adds Perkins.
The HOSG was ahead of its time when it was launched in 1984: “We did not plan it like this, but it certainly fits into the current mould of creating more women sport events and the general drive of equal opportunity and numbers. They are talking about women’s footy and inclusiveness now, we did that 32 years ago,” co-founder and former Olympic coxswain Susie Palfreyman reflects.
Creating opportunities for girls in rowing was the driver for creating the HOSG. A schoolgirls crew had won the Head of the River in 1984, an exclusive APS schoolboys regatta, which at the time included a couple of invitational schoolgirl races, but they were not invited back the following year. Palfreyman was the coach of this crew and as a response Palfreyman was part of a group started their own and first girls-only regatta.
“Girls who rowed, were not looked after by state associations and at regattas at the time. We had to fight hard to be recognised,” says Palfreyman.
“But only in my dreams would I have thought it would grow this big. It has been growing steadily by school and by number of competitors every year.”
The educational aspect of the regatta has become important. “For us the regatta is not all about winning,” says HOSG President Josephine Millard. “Some of these girls will go on to be Olympic rowers. A lot of them will take the skills that they learn in rowing and take them into other industries and that’s what’s important for us.”
“On their journey to this regatta the girls have fun, but they also learn resilience, hard work and team work. They learn to set goals and to progress towards these goals and we know that one of the things that impact on student achievement is the ability to set goals. Specifically rowing teaches them the process of setting goals they can achieve, a learning, which they can then transfer into their education,” Millard explains.
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