Florida's World Aquatic Center will host its largest regatta in Manatee-Sarasota this weekend

nwilliams@bradenton.comMay 11, 2012 

Seventeen hundred rowers and more than 10,000 spectators are expected to converge on the Manatee-Sarasota area this weekend for the Southeast Youth Championship Regatta, a U.S. Rowing Association sanctioned event that will be held at Florida's World Aquatic Center in Nathan Benderson Park.

More than 40 high school and club teams from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are set to compete in the 2,000-meter race for an opportunity to earn a bid to the U.S. Rowing Junior National Championships June 8-10 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The event will be the largest held at the aquatic center this year and officials are expecting it to generate a large amount of revenue.

"Its a huge economic impact," said Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer of the SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit corporationestablished to manage the aquatic center. "They like to purchase a lot of local goods. They like coming here to the Sarasota-Bradenton area. They enjoy coming to Florida every other year."

Blackketter said construction under way at the center will not affect the regatta. Regatta Island, a 30-acre multiuse site on the opposite side of the lake, is expected to be complete within six or seven months. The island will include a boat house training center, storage units for boats and rentals, parking area and finish line tower.

The Florida Legislature approved $5 million for the project this year, which will go to constructing the island, along with the installation of a wave protection platform, a requirement of the FISA, the international rowing organization.

The Sarasota County Sports Commission was recently named Member of the Year by the National Association of Sports Commissions for the budget category of $100,000 to $300,000. The criteria for this award includes the quality of the sporting events brought to community, samples of events from which the community as a whole received benefit, evidence that the organization's activities benefited community organizations financially or otherwise, and statements of support from community organizations affected by the organization's activities.

Two weekends ago, the Manatee County youth rowing program made history at the Florida Scholastic Rowing Championships when four boats from Palmetto High qualified for the Scholastic Rowing National Championships May 25-26 in Camden, N.J.

This weekend, Palmetto rowers will try to continue their success.

"I have a feeling some of our local teams will qualify," said Trish Jackson, program director.

Southeast High will enter its men's and women's four boats while Palmetto will enter its men's and women'sfour, junior varsity four and third varsity men's and women's eight boats. "Next year, scholastics will be in our backyard and we want all of our boats to compete on a national level," Jackson said.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitternote>

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