High school crews hit Lake Massabesic Saturday for regatta

New Hampshire Union Leader
September 24. 2013 9:40PM
Derryfield single crew rower Regina Salmons runs for her oars after setting her boat in Merrimack River during practice in Hooksett on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- If you pass by Lake Massabesic Saturday, you might see more color than the changing foliage.

For the first time since at least 1882, the lake will play host to a racing regatta with rowers traversing in sleek, colorful shells.

About 375 athletes from seven schools, along with an estimated 500 spectators, are expected to turn out for the regatta, which features teams from Manchester Central, Amherst, Bedford, Hollis-Brookline and Concord as well as The Dublin School and Medford, Mass.

"This is going to be an annual event," said Marc Lussier, president of Manchester Community Rowing, which is organizing the regatta.

But Lussier and his crew hope to achieve a longer-term goal for the lake.

"There'll be a boathouse there and we'll be running high school crew programs," he said.

The course will stretch about three miles across the lake, which provides drinking water to residents in Manchester and parts of surrounding towns.

Competing will be teams of four and eight rowers, besides the coxswain, who steers the boat and sets the pace.

The finish line will be near the picnic tables and parking lot just south of the Massabesic traffic circle.

The regatta falls on the same day as the 39th annual Manchester Invitational, a cross-country meet at Derryfield Park that draws hundreds of runners from all around the Northeast.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, whose attendance at a regatta in Pembroke a few years ago helped stir his interest, convinced the Manchester Water Works to spend $35,000 in surplus funds to build a dock near St. Peter Church in Auburn to aid the regatta.

Emma Ashooh, a senior at Bedford High School, said she looks forward to competing in a new surrounding.

"I think it's exciting to go and have new scenery on the lake where no one's ever rowed," Ashooh said.

"I love it so much and I know my teammates would love it if the NHIAA (New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association) would count it as a varsity sport."

Crew is not a varsity sport in the state, but some student rowers benefit by getting school credit for gym.

Gatsas, who chairs the city's school board, said "baby steps" are needed before anyone considers adding crew as a varsity sport.

Lussier noted that adopting crew as a varsity sport would limit a student's participation to one season, either spring or fall, whereas rowers in a club sport can participate year-round.

But crew comes at a cost, with a rowing shell generally running between $35,000 and $40,000, he said.

"I personally like the club sport as it is, but there are some who would like to see the city fund it as a sport," he said.

Pat Corbin, executive director of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, said NHIAA guidelines require at least 10 percent of its 90 member schools to demonstrate an ability to support a team and have a commitment from their local communities.

"There hasn't been a groundswell of people with crew coming out in force or contacting us saying this would be a real good thing to have," Corbin said.He cited two "stumbling blocks" for making it varsity: expensive equipment and proximity to water.

"If there's enough interest, people can come forth, then we'd set up a committee to study it," he said. "We're always looking to expand the breadth of offerings that we can have for our student-athletes."

In the last several years, NHIAA has added bowling and bass fishing as school sports.

Bowling took a couple of years to add, but bass fishing needed only a little over a year, he said.

For now, regatta organizers are hoping for a successful event to help build momentum to get other schools to establish teams.

"We wanted to have one well-planned, well-thought-out regatta under our belt," Lussier said. "It will be a larger event next year."

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