High school rowing | State's best converge at Nathan Benderson Park

HERALD STAFF REPORTApril 27, 2013 

The state's top high school rowing crews will compete this weekend at Nathan Benderson Park.

And the area's growing legion of rowers will fit in with their visitors.

Crews from Palmetto, Southeast and Manatee culminate their seasons Saturday and Sunday in the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Sweeps.

The Tigers, who sent four teams on to the nationals at last year's state sweeps, are entering their third year of competition. Southeast is in its second year, while Manatee is a new team.

"Palmetto's the most advanced," said Robert DeMino, a volunteer marketing and fundraising coordinator for Manatee County Youth Rowing, the umbrella organization for all three teams. "They're the favorites" among the local teams.

The competition will run from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Finals are expected to begin at about 10 a.m. Sunday.

Event coordinator Sarah Kupiec said about 1,800 athletes representing 43 schools will compete at this weekend's event. Organizers are expecting between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators.

Rowing is growing in popularity locally. Palmetto, Southeast and Manatee have maintained their programs despite financial challenges. The Tigers and Seminoles received $30,000 each from the School District of Manatee County to start their programs, but the same amount pledged to Manatee has been on hold due to budget cuts.

"They're operating under their own financial pretext because of what happened with the school budget," DeMino said. "The schools raise money independently for their teams, whether it be car washes or dinners or special events."

The three teams practice for two hours per day, four days per week, at Fort Hamer Park. DeMino's daughter, Isabella, is a freshman rower for Manatee. The sport was a natural fit for her, he said.

"She loves the teamwork, and she's very passionate about the water. The fact is the sport is not saturated, not overly populated. It's a growing sport. There's a lot of positive energy surrounding the sport," Robert DeMino said

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