MANATEE -- The Palmetto, Manatee and Southeast high school rowing teams will be among the teams across the state competing in the Florida Scholastic Championship Regatta this Saturday and Sunday at the Florida World Aquatic Center in Sarasota.
Depending on their finish this weekend, teams will have the opportunity to earn a bid to the National Scholastic Championships in New Jersey during Memorial Day weekend.
Of the teams competing, Sarasota Crew is the top-ranked club program in the state while Tampa Plant High's women's freshman eight boat is the leader in its category, winning races by an average of 15 seconds. Races start at 8 a.m. each day and spectators can enter at no charge. The rowing facility is in Nathan Benderson Park off University Parkway.
This is the fourth year the rowing facility has hosted the event, which will draw 40 teams and 10,000 spectators, organizers say.
"It's an Olympic site and it keeps developing rowing in Florida," said Justin Smith, one of the organizers of the regatta and west coast representative for the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association.
"Right now, rowing is a northeast sport and down here, its volleyball and football. By securing an Olympic-quality site, it's bringing much more attention to the sport and has a positive effect on youth and scholastic teams," Smith said.
"It takes them to a higher class of competition to where they can take it to the next level anywhere in the country," said Paul Blackketter, a Benderson Development project manager, who was recently named chief operating officer of the SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit corporation established to manage the aquatic center. "It elevates rowing throughout the state of Florida."
Blackketter said he will continue to work for Benderson, but the majority of his work will deal with rowing.
On April 17, Gov. Rick Scott included $5 million in the $70 billion state
budget for the aquatic center, which will be spent on improvements to the sprint course, including the regatta timing system and a finish line tower. The center will host the Southeast District Youth Championships May 12-13 and Blacketter said the center has already submitted a bid to host the National Scholastic Championships in 2015.
In February, the aquatic center hosted the third annual Sarasota Invitational, which drew nearly 1,500 rowers comprising 57 rowing clubs from 11 states.
Results of this weekend's regatta can be found on www.row2k.com.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter @_1NickWilliams