Anderson and Altenburg stand under a boat at ACHS

High school athletes to sign letters of intent hoping to ride the wave of NCAA female sport popularity.

Alexandria rowers make commitments to continue athletic careers.

Abigail Altenburg and Gretta Anderson sat together in the Alexandria City High School office last week with matching callused hands and wearing declaratory college logo t-shirts.

This year, they are two of approximately 48,000 student-athletes declaring national letters of intent to participate in college sports.

Anderson and Altenburg laughed about an incident their junior year, getting trapped on a military base during a thunderstorm. Still, mostly, they talked about their love of the sport.

ACHS rowing team
ACHS rowing team (Courtesy of Gretta Anderson)

Anderson described rowing together as being “one string” of tension to accomplish the task. All must act in concert, pulling in the same direction.

“In rowing, you have to be them. Like you are all the same nine people in the boat,” Altenburg said. “You have to move every single part of your body together; you have to breathe together.”

Further, they even share ambitious academic aspirations. Anderson said she plans to study international politics, leveraging her fluency in French and German. Altenburg said she would like to study biomedical engineering and perhaps design prosthetics someday.

Now, it is time for their paths to diverge as they formally commit to colleges almost three thousand miles apart.

“It’s exciting just to see how many people are so happy for you, so proud of you,” Altenburg said, wearing Washington State crimson. “It’s amazing, and I know a lot of people are going to be there.”

“It’s exciting to see all your friends and family there; my whole team’s going,” Anderson said, wearing the University of Massachusetts Amherst maroon. “It’s always fun; they make posters and act like it’s a surprise.”

One of Altenburg’s coaches at the club TBC Racing, Matt Russell, described her as a “consummate athlete” who swam competitively in addition to rowing. He also emphasized her leadership skills, contributing to a family environment and fun rather than an athletic “factory.”

“ҹֱington State coaches certainly got lucky in that deal,” Russell said. “I think she’ll be impactful right away in that program.”

Altenburg carrying boat
Abigail Altenburg carrying the boat with her team (Courtesy of Abigail Altenburg)

Women’s sports are gaining an audience. NIL deals are getting better. 

Both athletes expressed optimism when assessing the current state of college sports.

“Women in sports in general have just kicked off in the last decade,” said Anderson. “And it’s great to see people respected more.”

tracked 10 million fans tuning into the NCAA Women’s Basketball final between LSU and Iowa. This figure eclipsed that for the men’s final.

According to Nielsen, a significant driver of this increased viewership in women’s sports was increased access to games. Viewership is tracked by the number of matches on TV over the last four Women’s World Cups and Women’s Euro Cups.

Social media represents another form of increased access over the last ten years.

Anderson said following the U.S. Olympic women’s rowing team and elite college rowers on Instagram “has really motivated me.”

Following a class action legal victory in a case headlined by Ed O’Bannon and California’s 2019 Fair Pay to Play Act, college athletes have had increased opportunity to capitalize on their Name, Image and Likeness. Many college stars are monetizing their social media presence under these new rules.

The 2023 Women’s NCAA championship game stars Angel Reese, Flau’jae Johnson and Caitlin Clark all cashed in on their athletic successes and prolific social media followings. Reese had 5.2 million followers across X, Tik Tok and Instagram, compared to 3.2 million for Johnson and 1 million for Clark. All told, these athletes had N.I.L. deals valued at $1.7 million, $1.1 million and $764 thousand, respectively, according to .

Anderson and Altenburg spoke favorably of these trends in the finance and self-storytelling opportunities for young female athletes.

ACHS team 2
ACHS rowing team (Courtesy of Abigail Altenburg)

Challenges remain to the growth of rowing, such as access to rowable water in some parts of the country and boats that cost thousands of dollars, according to Anderson. Still, overall, the Titans were optimistic about the future of the sport.

“It definitely used to be much more of an elitist sport, but there’s a lot more inclusion now,” Altenburg said. “I hope a lot of people can learn to row and have the opportunity to.”

Both will continue to row and train through the upcoming winter. Coach Russell said that training could commence on the water as long as the combined temperatures of the water and air were above 80 degrees and there was no lightning or other abnormal weather events.

Coaches for Washington State and UMass Amherst could not comment on the impending signings due to NCAA rules.

Cameron Adams

Cameron Adams is an emerging journalist covering Alexandria, Virginia for the Wash. He is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Journalism at American University.

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