Monday, May 13, 2013

McQuaid's Senior 8 at 2013 NYSSRA Championships

The conclusion of the Boys Senior 8 semi-final heat won by St. Anthony's (5/10/13).
My stepson Gregory and his school's crew team, McQuaid Jesuit High School, made their annual trip to Saratoga Springs, New York, to participate in the 2013 Scholastic Rowing Championships. Sponsored by New York State Scholastic Rowing Association, the head-to-head sprint finals format makes for an interesting spectator experience, especially for one such as myself who is unschooled in the nuances of competitive rowing.
While I greatly appreciate the stamina and technical skills necessary to row (well), this is primarily due to the competitive similarities between rowing and running. Many of the fall season races (and seeding races at this meet as well) are timed races solely for seeding purposes. Like early heats in a track and field meet, those who are expected to move onto semis may give just enough effort to gain a favorable seeding lane. Though I'm certain each team rows all out, not being able to visually see the teams row against one another (and knowing they'll be back hours later for the head-to head) makes the viewing a little less intense.

In the four years that Gregory had been rowing, and attending the Scholastic Championships, this was the first time I had been able to attend. In years past the track team I coach would be competing on this weekend, but due to a new track being installed I was able to make the trip down. I had often heard stories of mud pits, rain and generally in hospitable conditions, so I had expected the worst. Fortunately, the weather was relatively pleasant with only intermittent drizzle and wind--of course, only when racing was commencing. During the scheduled (and unscheduled) breaks in action the sun came out and it was a lovely Spring day.

A bridge to somewhere: the NYS Scholastic Rowing Championship site (5/10/13).
For those who are unfamiliar with the popularity of competitive rowing (like I was until I rooting interest in the matter) the swollen roadway into the park where the boats launched is reminder enough of the number of spectators who turn out. Though the race is at "Saratoga Springs", the rowing takes place on Fish Creek, a fairly large "creek" that flows into Saratoga Lake.

Primo viewing locale for the finish of each race (5/10/13).
For McQuaid's Senior 8 initial heat, I remained at our tent site to take pictures. Traditionally at regatta's there are bridges on which spectators and photographers stand to snap pictures. I sat out the first race with the understanding that I'd have at least the semis to stake out a location on the bridge. McQuaid was fortunate to have a tent location nearly at the finish with no obstructions such as boat docks or overgrown riversides to get in the way of viewing.

Time trial finale (5/10/13).
The return lane for boats that had recently concluded their heat was in between the shore the race, which his why this picture looks like 1) the boys are rowing against girls and 2) going the wrong direction. This image was taken immediately following their heat which is why the oars are up. Soon they will drift below the bridge and turn around for their return to the launch area.

Returning to the launch for a roughly four-hour break before semis (5/10/13).
McQauid families enjoying a choice location and lots of grub (5/10/13).
One of the great selling points for families to get involved with crew is the camaraderie that develops. The center of activity at any high school regatta (beyond the body of water on which serves as the field of competition) is the team hospitality tent. Because parents and rowers regularly arrive during the early morning hours, coffee and bagels are usually available. Throughout the day, two larger meals are served, while drinks and snacks are also on hand for noshing daylong. Families take turns volunteering their time and resources to prepare food for the team and their families. Today's regatta was no different in that the tent offered a place to reconnect with friends and family, as well as serving as a dry "island" in the occasional patches of drizzle that came through Saratoga.

"Fours" and "eights" are derigged for the trip home as teams conclude competition (5/10/13).
In between races I enjoy wandering around the regatta site, or (as I later did) sneaking back to the car for a little nap. While my wife and I were touring the trailer area, I plainly heard an announcer "calling the heats," much like at horse race, through large speakers. I wish this had been broadcast more widely as it raised the level of excitement and gave the event a more professional, lively feel.

The view of spectators from the bridge (5/10/13).

The official finish line wherein technology helps determine who the winners are (5/10/13).

The view of boats lining up at the start in anticipation of the start (5/10/13).
From the bridge the racing lanes are very visible. It's the coxswain's job to ensure that the boat stays in it's lane and on course. Most think that the coxswain has the easiest job as he or she doesn't row, but staying the course is not as easy as it appears.

Just like in track, boats (like sprinters) end up seeded where they belong (5/10/13).
Just like a sprint in track, the faster boats earn the right to compete from the center lanes. Unlike track the advantage is clear, in the center lanes, a boat is less likely to be slowed by the wake of its competitors. Note the officials cruising along in "launches." Similar launches are sued by coaches during practice to coach athletes regarding form and pace.

In track we woudl say "everyone ran to their seed" (5/10/13).
Here, everyone rows to their respective seeds (5/10/13).
Gregory and his teammates after the race (5/10/13).
It didn't take a trip to the results trailer to know we'd come up just a little short... (5/10/13).
After last year's third place bronze medal-winning performance, which ended with the Boys Junior 8 boat (with Greg), earning a trip to Nationals in New Jersey, anything less than a return trip would be viewed by some as a failure. Despite being disappointed at not meeting that lofty goal, there was still  much to celebrate, not the least of which being the culmination his four years of hard training and growth. The dedication of Greg and his teammates certainly made a believer out of me and fostered for all involved an appreciation and affection for the previously mysterious world of competitive rowing.

Full results from the New York Scholastic Rowing Championships for all races are available here.

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