Participation in high school athletics may be on the decline, but rowing is finding ways to grow. One way to tell is by watching the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Champion-ships — an event better known to some as NOVAs grow from a Northern Virginia event into a true state championship.
Twenty-nine of the National Capital Area Scholastic Rowing Association’s 40 member schools are from Virginia. Seventeen of those schools are from Fairfax County, Fairfax, Alexandria or Arlington, and five more are from Prince William. Madison, a Vienna high school, started its program this season, and had boats finish as high as third this past weekend.
Saturday’s championships will include three NCASRA members from the Chesapeake Bay area, regulars at recent events on the Occoquan Reservoir: Mathews, Gloucester and Christ Church. This year’s state championships may also mark the debuts of three more Hampton Roads schools in Hickory, Norfolk Collegiate and Great Bridge. Richmond-area James River has also started a program and may someday participate in the state championship regatta.
“That’s what our goal is, to eventually turn this into a true state championship,” said Lee West, the director of regattas on the Occoquan.
The reservoir, which sits on the river that separates Prince William and Fairfax counties and runs from Bull Run Creek to the Potomac River, is one of the nation’s best rowing facilities. High school teams are starting to appreciate that fact.
West said Cincinnati Country Day and Raleigh Charter have been to the Occoquan this spring, and plan to come back next year. At Saturday’s Al Urquia Regatta, two schools made the overnight trip to row against the D.C.-area competition: Pittsburgh’s Allderdice High School and Marietta, which rows its home regattas on Ohio’s Muskingum River. The Saturday before, three Pennsylvania schools, including two from the Philadelphia area, made the trip south.
“I think part of it is that they know they have really strong competition in this area,” said West. “That and the Occoquan has a good reputation, and hosting the masters last year just helped. There aren’t too many places that can say they host international events.”
Area rowing enthusiasts would probably list Thomas Jefferson, T.C. Williams and Woodbridge among the strongest schools in Virginia. The Vikings’ boys varsity eight has proven it belongs among the best with bronze-medal finishes at the 2000 and 2001state championships and a silver medal last season.
After a three-school scrimmage on Thursday in which Woodbridge outpaced Robinson but lost to TJ, Vikings boys coach Tom Moulen had high praise for the Colonials.
“TJ is incredibly strong this year,” Moulen said. “I wouldn’t put it past them to dominate all the way through Stotes and nationals.”
West agreed with Moulen.
But the coach still thinks Woodbridge has a “strong chance” of keeping its streak of top-three finishes going.
“I think most people think we’re pretty slow right now,” said Moulen, who has been without top rower Chris Richbourg for two weeks. The senior had a rib cage injury and returned for Saturday’s scrimmage, but the Vikings’ times without him likely do not reflect their strength with him.
The Vikings have juggled the lineups in their top boys eights, and Moulen still had seat racing competitions — scheduled for today — before he could set his final lineups.
Moulen also said that the Vikings will row eights through the metro-area championships, but will probably move to fours for the Stotesbury Cup Regatta and national championships. The 11th-year coach of the Vikings said it may be 15 years since the Vikings have fielded fours at those regattas, but that their lack of participation may necessitate it.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIP DETAILS
Saturday’s races are scheduled to begin between 8 and 9 a.m., with finals starting around 1 p.m. As always, the event is free, but parking is $5. There is also satellite parking and constant shuttle service at the old Hechinger lot on Minnieville Road between Smoketown Road and Prince William Parkway.
West said that 1,647 rowers participated in a regatta two weeks ago.
“As we grow, our need for parking grows,” West said.
Race officials anticipated the pressure that would put on the lots at Sandy Run Regional Park and Van Thompson Road, and used the satellite parking and shuttle vans. West said it worked well and as the vans ran regularly, there were no reports of anyone missing races or events they planned to watch.
There is also the possibility of a very prominent guest from Richmond visiting the state championships to hand out medals at the awards dock.
AL URQUIA RESULTS
Forest Park and Potomac rowed this past Saturday, while Woodbridge, Hylton and Gar-Field took Easter weekend off.
The Bruins’ boys lightweight four notched the highest local finish, taking second behind West Springfield in their afternoon final. Gloucester actually had the fastest time in that race, but was disqualified for rowing out of progression.
Forest Park also scored a couple of fourth place finishes for its boys and girls varsity eights. West Springfield, W.T. Woodson and Marietta made up the the boys top three while the Spartans, Langley and Marietta were the girls medalists.
Potomac’s boys and girls fours each finished fifth.
After Saturday’s state championships, many local crews will head to the May 3 Mathews Regatta in the Tidewater area.
The National Capital Area Scholastic Rowing Championship — or “metros” — are on the Occoquan May 10, then away regattas begin. The Stotesbury Cup Regatta is held on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River May 16-17 and the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Championship — “nationals” — are on Camden, N.J.’s Cooper River May 23-24.
Keith McMillan covers crew for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or by e-mail at [email protected].