When Jeremy Taylor gets a new set of rowers at the start of each season, he asks them a question.
"It's up to them if they want the club to be more recreational or more competitive," Taylor said.
Taylor, coach of the Wichita Rowing Association (WRA), is a volunteer. He doesn't get paid to haul more than a dozen teenagers throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and elsewhere. He does it because most often, the kids tell him they're serious.
The junior rowing program was created about 20 years ago. Since then, the team has grown in size, wins and money. The WRA started fundraising for a permanent headquarters building five years ago. There was a strong push in the first year, but donations died off.
Taylor said the WRA has raised more than $200,000.
"It's very rewarding," Taylor said. "The juniors could have just sat back and let all the older people take care of it, but they really wanted to step up and do their part. ... They might not have the money to pay for things, but they definitely have the strength."
The club is individually funded and made up of rowers from across the Wichita area. Athletes must be high school age or younger. Taylor said "99.9 percent" of the rowers who have come through the club started with no experience.
One of those was captain Amber Haden, a high school junior. She joined the team after her brother tried it but didn't think it was for him. Haden said she started at WRA as an eighth grader. Since then, she has competed throughout the Southern U.S. and realized her plan for the future.
"I want to go row in college when I get to that point," Haden said. "After a little bit, I knew I wanted to take it seriously, and taking on a leadership role, it shows colleges that you can take on responsibilities and be coachable."
Haden is one of many WRA rowers who have had collegiate aspirations, and if she gets there, she will be one of several.
The WRA has sent rowers to Kansas, Wichita State and elsewhere. KU and Kansas State have NCAA-sponsored women's programs, and WSU's is an independent varsity team but still offers scholarships upwards of $1,000.
Although the club is still helping send its members through to college, universities tend to recruit prolific athletes rather than experienced rowers. Taylor is one example.
He rowed at WSU for four years but had never seen a boat before showing up, he said.
Megan Michaelis is another example.
Michaelis served as a soccer goalkeeper and doesn't have rowing experience but is committed to row at K-State in the fall. She said she decided to take a chance on rowing because of the atmosphere the coaches and other rowers created on her visit.
"Almost all of the girls on the ream had never rowed before college, and that meant that everyone's starting in the same spot," Michaelis said. "You come together a group of athletic, strong women, and you learn this new sport all together.
"You could just sense the bond that created."
It's a practice the rowing community has grown accustomed to, but athletes also know coming in with experience certainly doesn't hurt.
For experienced rowers like Haden, watching athletes earn rowing scholarships can serve as extra motivation to improve. She said it's the nature of the sport.
"When colleges get people that haven't rowed before, they can train them exactly how they want them to row," she said. "If you do club rowing, you've learned under a different coach and not the college way."
For Taylor, the aim is clear. With the new building, the club will continue to do what it has done for decades. Ultimately if rowers decide they want to treat it as fun rather than competition, the direction will change, Taylor said. But the club's success and history don't point toward that happening.
There are rowing teams in Kansas City, Topeka, Manhattan that compete against one another, and the WRA fares well against them, Taylor said.
Teams from Iowa and other teams from the north are comparable, and teams from Oklahoma and Texas become more talented with opportunities available, including the U.S. Olympic Committee training facility in Oklahoma City.
The WRA competes in about seven regattas each year, including two in Wichita.
Rowing in Wichita is growing in talent and opportunity, and with that, Taylor said they don't plan on stopping.