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Concord captures inaugural regatta as high school crew takes over Lake Massabesic

By Mike Cousineau
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 28. 2013 8:35PM
The Manchester High School Central girls' varsity fours work their way across the finish line at Massabesic Lake Saturday during the inaugural Water Works Challenge Regatta (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Nick Benoit answered the call from the crowd.

"Kiss the cup! Kiss the cup!"

The junior from Bow High School obliged, then celebrated with swarming teammates after the Concord Crew men's varsity team captured the Mayor's Cup Saturday in the first Water Works Challenge regatta on Lake Massabesic.

"Every stroke was 150 percent, and we steered a good line," said Benoit, who, as coxswain, steered the rowing shell and shouted orders to his eight rowing teammates. They covered the 3-mile course in the day's best time of just under 15 minutes and 15 seconds.

About 375 high school athletes participated from seven schools, while hundreds more - parents, family members and friends - lined the shore, sometimes up to eight deep.

"It's a gorgeous setting," said Shawn LaFrance, whose son, Aidan, was part of the winning Concord varsity squad. "I didn't even know it existed in Manchester. It makes me want to jump in."

But because the lake provides drinking water to Manchester and a half-dozen other communities, there was no jumping in - even for the traditional tossing of the winning coxswain into the water.

Perhaps organizers can set up an inflatable pool next year.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who helped secure funds for a dock needed for the regatta, said he looked forward to the regatta expanding.

"Maybe we can do this twice a year here," he said during the awards ceremony.

With students from Manchester high schools Memorial and Trinity taking notes for plans to start their own rowing clubs, the mayor held out the possibility of a citywide crew championship on the lake.

Trinity sophomore Griffin Leclerc sold T-shirts and raffle tickets at the event while researching what it will take to establish a crew club at his Catholic high school.

"There's a lot of fundraising that goes into it," he said.

Memorial junior Melissa Faucher and senior Joseph Discua are working to get a club established there.

Following the course was difficult at times. At least three teams missed the finish line, and spectators were at a disadvantage without the benefit of binoculars.

"It was frustrating for us because the map wasn't very clear," said sophomore Alex Schwartz, the coxswain for one of Bedford's eight-rower squads.

His was penalized 30 seconds for missing buoys.

"The maps had green stars (for buoys), and I only saw orange buoys," he said. "That confused me."

On a sparkling day with splashes of fall colors around the lake, Bedford rower Matthew Ahnen gave a mixed report card.

"I'd give it a high rating for scenery and maybe a 3 (out of 10) for the race course," he said. "It was confusing."

Other teams competing came from Amherst, The Dublin School and Medford, Mass.

In the end, Concord Crew, which had the biggest contingent of athletes, at 86, took three of the top four awards, also winning in the women's varsity and women's novice categories. Hollis-Brookline, in its first fall regatta, captured the men's novice trophy. Each of the awards contained a recycled faucet screwed into the base.

Times from multiple heats were factored into the scoring, using a points system to determine awards.

The trophies will return next year, ready for the names of the next winners to be etched on them.

Last spring, Hollis-Brookline's crew club sailed in its first regatta with about two-dozen students. On Saturday, it brought 48 to Massabesic, according to Margie Sengstaken, whose family helped organize the team.

The team grew because of "visibility in the hallways in the school and spreading the word," she said.

In New Hampshire, crew is only as a club activity. But, Sengstaken said, "It is gaining momentum."

Several miles away, nearly 3,000 cross-country runners converged on Derryfield Park in Manchester for the 39th running of the Manchester Invitational.

Sengstaken said she hopes the Water Works Challenge can match the regional cross-country invitational some day. "This is one of many," she said.

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