By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
Blood may be thicker than water, but the McDevitt family’s bond is so much tighter because of all the time they spent gliding through bays and rivers throughout their lifelong crew careers.
Just shy of a full varsity eight, the McDevitt siblings — all Holy Spirit alumni — have dedicated part of their lives to the sport. In fact, three of the seven are coaching together in Florida with another helping out when he can.
Mike McDevitt, who graduated Holy Spirit in 1982, relocated from Somers Point to Ft. Lauderdale earlier this year. He will be coaching alongside his younger sisters, Megan Mellinger (class of 1984) and Kathy Wojtas (class of 1982), at the Hollywood Youth Rowing Club, which is a girls program founded by Megan.
The club, which was created to give student-athletes without a school team a place to compete, begins its second season in September. Youngest brother, Jimmy, recently ran a camp for the program.
“I’m looking forward to the season. I’m looking forward to coaching the girls,” said Mike, who grew up in Ventnor.
“(Mike) will definitely bring a lot to the program. It’s nice too, not just to keep it in the family, but (coach) with people that know what they are doing, and with someone who you respect their opinions,” Mellinger said.
Megan isn’t the first McDevitt to start a program. According to Megan, the matriarch of the family — Rita — was instrumental in starting the girls program at Holy Spirit High School after seeing how the boys benefited from the sport.
Oldest brother Tommy McDevitt was a standout rower for the Spartans and Mike followed in his footsteps. Both went on to college to row. Mike was a student-athlete at Florida Institute of Technology, where he helped the team win the Dad Vail in 1982.
Rita wanted her girls, and other girls, to get the same opportunities. She created the Island Rowing Club to generate interest, which ultimately led to the start of the Holy Spirit team.
“Mom started the women’s program there. That’s a big deal,” said Mellinger, who also rowed at Florida Institute of Technology. “She saw the success and opportunities my older brothers had and that’s why she went ahead and started something for the girls so we could participate and benefit as well.”
She added: “It means a lot that we are coaching together and starting a program like our Mom did.”
Kathy never had a chance to row for Holy Spirit since the program started in 1982, just a few months after she graduated. However, she did row for Island Rowing Club, and continues to compete to this day. All three siblings — Mike, Megan and Kathy — still compete, and will be racing in the same regattas as the rowers they coach. In 2008, all seven siblings, plus Mellinger’s friend and daughter, competed together in Miami.
“The competition is No. 1. I love getting out there and racing against other people,” Mike said. “But the main thing is when you’re rowing there is a certain feeling you get when everyone is rowing together at the same time, 100 precent. It’s a beautiful feeling. All the oars are going together at once and it feels like one person rowing. It really is amazing. At this age it’s tough to get the oars together. But the feeling getting the boat up to speed and everything is clicking right, is a wonderful feeling.”
Having coaches who still put the oars in the water can go a long way, especially when teaching novice rowers. Not only do the coaches have history and knowledge on their side, but the girls can see them work just as hard as they do.
“Megan and Kathy will put our (rowing photos) up on Facebook and the girls see it,” said Mike, who rows four days a week. “We may be coaches, but we still row, too. We will be rowing in races the same day the girls are racing so it’s a great thing.”
So is giving opportunities to young female athletes, then and now.
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO