Head of the Ohio Regatta: It's all in a row
Share with others:
It can be said that the majority of high school athletes ply their craft in relative obscurity.
Only a few select sports draw big crowds -- and even that is only for games. Football players, for example, typically sweat through two-a-days in August without anyone cheering them on.
For rowing, that's even moreso -- and it has nothing to do with the popularity of the sport. Training usually begins each day before most people are awake -- often, before the sun rises.
The annual Head of the Ohio Regatta is Saturday, and Pittsburgh's biggest rowing event is the area's most prominent opportunity for local rowers -- including dozens of high school athletes -- to get their moment in the sun, so to speak.
"One thing to really stress, especially on the high school level, is these kids work really, really hard," said Oakland Catholic coach Joe Mariuzza, a former standout rower for Central Catholic.
"This is a competitive sport that takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment. High schoolers are dealing with plenty in general, and then you have kids who go down four or five times a week early in the morning or late after school, and they are competing and working really hard.
"A lot can be said for that, and this is one of those times they can get everyone at their school, classmates and friends and teachers can come out and watch them, enjoy themselves, see what rowing is all about and why these athletes put so much time and work into it."
In all, there are more than 2,000 participants racing in more than 500 boats coming from more than 100 organizations across the country and even from Canada.
High School racing is a significant segment of the competition but is still only part of the day, what with colleges, corporate teams, rowing clubs, individuals with disabilities and others also represented.
"It's the biggest race we put on and one of the biggest races in the fall around the country," said Rick Brown, director of the Three Rivers Rowing Association, which stages the event. "It's a nice, friendly festival-type atmosphere for those who watch.
"But for the athletes, when they get down to business, they're as competitive as any other sport -- if not moreso -- once they're on the race course."
The format of the competition essentially has racers running against the clock, one-by-one starting at timed intervals with boats they are competing against having left the starting lines before or after they did. Each boat is timed individually.
Spectators can take in the race from a variety of vantage points along the river banks or on the bridges spanning the Allegheny. Near the finish line on the North Shore is where most of the activity will be, with vendors and race organizers and the athletes finding out where they placed and if they won.
"People who have never seen a rowing race before will see all the action here -- all the boats moving around, all the commands being shouted out," Brown said.
"I think what's fun about watching it is just the sheer number of boats out there head racing," said Susan Carlson, a past president of the board of directors at Three Rivers Rowing and still a competitive rower herself.
"It can be overwhelming, just with so much going on down at The Point, seeing so many people come across the finish line and the coxswains yelling and when the boats are coming in neck-and-neck, who comes in first. It can be exciting, but there's also a beauty to the sport, seeing everybody moving together as one.
"You see eight high school kids, who usually can't get out of bed in the morning, and you know they were up at 5 in the morning and they've worked to become this perfect little team that is like a machine going across the water."
The regatta raises money for Three Rivers Rowing, an organization open to the community, which is mostly supported by volunteers and at which eight local high schools row out of its boathouse, and also for charities such as Project Bundle Up.
The high school portion of the competition includes different levels of varsity, junior varsity and novice racing. Mariuzza's Oakland Catholic team, one of the area's premier programs, will have three boats competing: Two "eights" and one "four" in the varsity competitions.
"Over the years in the Pittsburgh area, we've seen more and more high school kids start in the sport as freshmen and earn college scholarships by the time they are seniors," Brown said.
"Rowing has a rich tradition of history in Pittsburgh, dating back to the 1800s, and today's young rowing athletes represent that well today. It's nice to see how some of our high schools stack up against those from other areas."
• What: The 24th annual Head of the Ohio is billed as the third-largest one-day rowing event in the country.
• When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: 2.8 mile course that runs from Washington's Landing on the Allegheny River down to The Point, with most of the activity on North Shore Riverfront Park (the grassy area along the river between Heinz Field and the Bettis Grille).
First Published October 8, 2010 12:32 am