Dallas United Crew (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Dallas United Crew is taking steps to be both a competitive, high-performing club and expand its outreach.

Now in its 20th year, the nonprofit based at White Rock Lake just hired Austin “AJ” Brooks to be its first executive director.

The club was founded in 2002 by four high-school girls from Highland Park, who fell in love with rowing through the film The Skulls, DUC board member Lisa Miller says. They had to purchase equipment and find a coach. Back then, they were known as Highland Park Crew, and their boats were stored at the Bath House Cultural Center.

But they were serious, and in 2004, the athletes qualified to participate in a national competition.

Within years of its founding, the club expanded, and it now serves a diverse group of students from schools around the city. Plus, the nonprofit offers dragon boating for adults and a rowing program for veterans.

A few years ago, DUC began Row Dallas, a partnership with STEM to Stern, in which the club offers academic tutoring and rowing lessons, along with transportation to facilities and financial assistance. This program also includes a partnership with SMU graduate students, who do the tutoring.

Over the past 10 years, more than 70 students from the club have earned Division I scholarships for rowing or have been accepted to Division I rowing programs. The first time a DUC athlete from Dallas ISD received a full scholarship to row was in 2011.

“The impact of the program has been very profound in the sense that changing people’s lives, starting with children being able to reach their dreams and full potential in college,” Miller says.

Board President Dave Slear says there’s something about the sport that “trickles over into other things in life”; it’s team-based, but what sets it apart is that everyone is succeeding or failing at the same time. It teaches teamwork and collaboration.

Since 2015, DUC has been partnering with the City of Dallas and local recreation centers to offer Rec Crew Camps for local kids, run by DUC coaches with help from DUC athletes.

Looking to the future, the club is trying to do something Slear says hasn’t been done by any other club in the country. There are “elite” and “expensive” clubs training competitive athletes, and there are outreach programs that typically aren’t focused on preparing students for collegiate or higher-level rowing.

DUC wants to do both.

“We want to have that option for kids that they can go row on a national team or win medals at a national regatta, no matter where they’re coming from,” Slear says.

During the next decade, DUC will continue to build partnerships with recreation centers, schools and other organizations to draw in more kids and provide them the opportunity to get involved with rowing. Of course, DUC needs to keep up its fundraising efforts to help support all of its programs.

And Brooks, the organization’s first-ever executive director, brings rowing and administrative experience to the club. As a coach and program director at the University of California Irvine, he was using his own skills gathered from years of competitive rowing at the national level, all the while managing the business side of the club.

At DUC, Brooks says he’s excited to focus all of his energy on ensuring the club maintains steady, sustainable growth. He’ll help facilitate communication and devise a strategic plan.

“What we’re trying to do has not been accomplished before, and it’s going to be difficult,” Slear says. “But I think it’s doable with the right amount of resources and the right amount of volunteer support and support from the city. What I love about this club is I think we’ve got all those pieces lined up. The opportunity is there for us to make it happen, and it’s ours to make happen.”