On a Mission: Insights from Executive Director Mike Knopp

RIVERSPORT FOUNDATION MISSION | We inspire excellence, enhance communities, and change lives through Olympic sports and outdoor urban adventures

June 5, 2020

Black Lives Matter

RIVERSPORT has always quietly gone about our business of getting people on the water – people of all races, from all walks of life. We’ve focused on getting kids from Title 1 schools, most from diverse racial backgrounds, into our youth rowing programs, summer camps and field trips.

We’ve been doing things quietly, but quiet is no longer enough.

The events targeting the African American community cannot be ignored. I cannot begin to pretend what it is like to walk in the shoes of those who have suffered through such bigotry and oppression.  I also cannot comprehend what would lead people to engage in such acts against members of the African American community.  But I can listen and learn from them, and act.

I’ve always been driven to share my passion for the outdoors, our city and our river with everyone – and especially when breaking through barriers and stereotypes. We have the privilege to define what our river means to our community, not saddled by entrenched culture, traditions and institutions that are barriers in other cities.  We began in our earliest years as Joe Clytus, Willa Johnson, and I worked to create youth outreach programming at the river. While we have since launched what is now a robust urban youth league, we need to do more – just as what occurred in this story of an African American rowing program formed in one of America’s most challenged inner city neighborhoods. I hope you’re as inspired as I am by the possibilities it points to in our community.

We have tremendous opportunity given our facilities and resources so close to the community. The point is this:  while we are making progress it is clearly not enough.  We are committed to this critical and timely movement to do more.

We were moved to make a social media post on Monday following the weekend protests to express what seems so natural to us, that in rowing you go further and faster when a group of individuals acts as one – regardless of skin color.  I truly believe that we need to take that message further and lend more of our voice – and our actions –  to this movement.

Saying more and doing more will not stop with this statement or social media posts.  Our immediate past Board Chairman Ronnie Irani announced yesterday a $25,000 gift to help us do more with the Black community at RIVERSPORT.  It is a first step, but we must start now.

I believe that like the story from Chicago, we can provide access to rowing and other RIVERSPORT programming that becomes a model for other communities.   Please know that I want to continue to learn and understand how we can truly help and I look forward to working together to do something special, impactful, and sustainable.

With gratitude,

Mike Knopp

March 2, 2020

A New Name for the OKC Boathouse Foundation

It is with great pleasure that I share with you a new milestone in our 20-year collective effort to transform what was once a barren and dry riverbed that divided OKC into a thriving outdoor recreation and international Olympic sports destination.  After 15 years as the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, the organization that sparked the historic development of our iconic Boathouse District through expansive community programming, world class events, iconic facilities, and cutting-edge attractions, is changing with the new decade.

We’ve grown – and adapted – tremendously since 2005 when we began with a group of passionate volunteers, a dock, shipping containers to hold our small collection of rowing shells, and a bold plan to build a boathouse near a straight section of river that was once again flowing thanks to the low water dams provided through the vision and citizen’s support of the original MAPS project.

RIVERSPORT Foundation Logo

As we launch 2020 and look to the exciting future at the river, we recognize the Foundation’s role in Oklahoma City, Olympic sports, and even on the world stage has grown exponentially. “Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation” no longer describes who or what we are.

Today, we are excited to announce the beginning of a new era in the life of our organization. We are now becoming “RIVERSPORT Foundation.”

While the original name has served us well, we believe RIVERSPORT Foundation ties all of our initiatives – adventures, athletics, our Olympic ties, and more! – together seamlessly and in a way that’s straightforward for all to understand.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the truly unprecedented support that we have enjoyed in this effort to activate our Oklahoma River.  Together, we have created a riverfront development like none other, a true differentiator for OKC, and a model for other communities.  We’ve grown, we’ve seen the impact we’re having on Oklahoma City as a whole.  In many ways, we’ve helped redefine how the world sees our city.

Our programming has truly changed lives – with over $13 million in college scholarships awarded to OKC youth who have logged millions of meters rowing and paddling up and down that former drainage ditch.  In many ways, we are only getting started as we collaborate with organizations across the community through the Thrive Outside initiative which we are honored to advance on behalf of OKC – one of four cities in America chosen by the Outdoor Foundation collective impact challenge grant designed to advance a true impact upon outdoor culture among local youth.  With our name change, we are also launching a new development campaign to help realize and sustain this generational opportunity for our community.

Throughout the past 15 years, we expanded program offerings to include rowing, kayaking, whitewater rafting and kayaking, dragon boating and sailing on both the competitive and recreational side.  Today we see RIVERSPORT as more of a lifestyle than any single program.  We are driven to encourage active outdoor lifestyles through our programming – through the inspiration and authenticity that comes with being the only river in America designated as a US Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.  People who enjoy outdoor sports and recreation and become a part of “Team OKC” and find a unique urban experience at RIVERSPORT.

Our name change to the RIVERSPORT Foundation comes right in time for a new “wave” of game-changing initiatives, events, and destinations coming to the Boathouse District.  This year we will introduce surfing to OKC with an exciting new attraction in RIVERSPORT Rapids, host both rounds of Olympic Trials for whitewater slalom, and welcome the world as medalists from the Tokyo Olympics canoe/kayak sprint events travel to OKC to race in the Super Cup – the first-ever internationally sanctioned and broadcast night racing event of its kind.

We are also excited to welcome the first commercial development to the Boathouse District in 2021 with Bar K that will take our lifestyle venue to a whole new level with the help of our four-legged friends along with great food and drinks.  We see Bar K as a strategic catalyst for complementary projects to come that will add to the year-round vibrancy of the Boathouse District.

While we have a new name – our mission to inspire excellence, enhance communities, and change lives through Olympic sports and outdoor urban adventures remains the same.  We thank all who have been a part of the 15+ year journey to get where we are today as well as all of those – members, athletes, sponsors, guests, fans, and the City of Oklahoma City – who are with us as we move forward into this future rich with amazing opportunity.

I’ll see you on the water!

Mike Knopp

February 8, 2019

Giving youth new opportunities is core to our mission

RIVERSPORT provides more than 135 scholarships every season to metro area middle and high school youth. It’s changing lives in ways you’d never imagine.

You can easily spot the physical value of rowing as a sport. It uses nine major muscles, challenging 84% of the muscles in your body. It requires cardiovascular endurance, strength, balance, flexibility and focus. So yes, it is great workout. And it’s a highly competitive sport.

But when it comes to changing young lives, the sport of rowing goes far beyond the obvious.

The power is in the possibilities. Rowing on one of RIVERSPORT’s youth teams inspires our young athletes – and sometime kids who don’t yet know they are athletes – to go for something more than they imagined possible.

Meet just a few of our junior athletes:

Ruthie Lacy was only able to row with the juniors because of a scholarship. It’s fortunate RIVERSPORT donors have been able to fund her participation, because her talent is apparent. Today, she is the fastest lightweight junior woman in the country with her 23:50 (1:59 pace) 6K erg score. (Olympic athletes clock in at 23:00 or a 1:55 pace) She is sure to get collegiate rowing scholarship offers, opening the door to educational opportunity, national and perhaps international travel, and new experiences she couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.

Sofia Ferguson is an accomplished Latino teen, an award-winning artist who volunteers at multiple charities in her spare time – and is an exceptional athlete. Team captain for the RIVERSPORT junior crew varsity women this year, she will be rowing at the prestigious Naval Academy in the fall. Sofia earned her invitation to the Naval Academy in many ways, but rowing set her apart from the rest. It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring opportunity.

Seth Morlan is one of 11 siblings and this scholarship athlete is the third sibling to row with RIVERSPORT. Seth placed second at one of the nation’s largest regattas, the Head of the Hooch, this year in the men’s four and plans to become a firefighter.  His older brother also went through the program and currently serves on the RIVERSPORT coaching staff.

Over the past 12+ years, we estimate Oklahoma City’s junior rowers have earned more than $8M in collegiate scholarships. Many have rowed at top educational institutions across the nation – Stanford, Clemson, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas, University of Minnesota, and the University of California at Berkley. Closer to home you’ll find our juniors on rowing scholarships at OCU, OU, UCO and the University of Tulsa. And while some of the most prestigious rowing schools in the nation don’t even offer scholarships, being a rower has been a differentiator helping junior athletes get into Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and MIT.

Just last week, junior crew rower Kate O’Keefe’s signing ceremony with Clemson was featured in a great front-page story by Jenni Carlson in the Oklahoman and on newsok.com.

Congrats to Katie and all of our 2019 graduating Junior Crew; see the impressive list below. And many thanks to Jenni for highlighting their success!

Beyond education, all of our juniors have the opportunity to stretch the bounds of their local high school. Rowing in San Diego, seeing Boston at the Head of the Charles race, racing at the Head of the Hooch in North Carolina – it shows them where their dreams, their talent and their hard work can take them.

The Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation is focused on creating a sustainable model that brings Olympic sports and outdoor recreation together to make a difference in the life of our city, our youth and our families. As a 501c3 nonprofit Foundation, we rely on contributed support from across the spectrum – individuals, corporations, and grants – along with earned revenue from RIVERSPORT Adventures and athletic programs to make the model work. Every adventure or rafting pass sold at RIVERSPORT goes toward sustaining our nonprofit initiatives.

Whether you’re buying passes, rowing or paddling in one of our programs, are a valued sponsor or have made a generous donation, we appreciate your support and hope you will continue to stay involved.


Donate now You can support scholarships for youth in our rowing and paddling leagues with a donation, large or small

Join us in congratulating all of our graduating seniors including…

Averie Brenner
The Ohio State University

Jacob Calhoon
Oklahoma City University

Allie Feeley

Sofia Ferguson
US Naval Academy

Colby Magill
US Naval Academy

Katie O’Keefe
Clemson University

Riane Soash
Old Dominion University

Lexi Wilson
University of Central Florida

Congratulations to Gus Cook, member of the OKC RIVERSPORT Junior Canoe/Kayak Team & national champion, for being featured in Boys’ Life magazine! See the article here. Watch for more on our youth paddling programs in future blog posts.

On a Mission: Insights from Executive Director Mike Knopp