UNIVERSITY PARK -- Benderson Park has hosted high school rowing events before but none this big.
The park was selected to host the 2015 Youth National Championships, officials announced Thursday, an event for elite high school rowers organized by USRowing.
"It's actually huge and significant because it's bringing in the entire United States to Sarasota-Bradenton," said Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer for Suncoast Aquatic and Nature Center Associates, the nonprofit that operates Benderson Park.
The three-day national championships traditionally draw more than 1,500 athletes from 150 teams and about 5,000 spectators from around the country.
"Once again, it's showcasing Sarasota-Bradenton to the United States," Blackketter said.
"Any time we can bring in a national event or an international event, it's a big plus," said Nicole Rissler, director of sports for Visit
Sarasota County. Strengthening community ties with USRowing is an even bigger value, she added.
In partnering with SANCA, which has taken millions of dollars from Manatee and Sarasota counties and the state, USRowing recognizes its responsibility to bring in big events with a big return on investment like the youth nationals, said Glenn Merry, USRowing CEO.
The nationals, now in their 18th year, have only been held at three other venues. As the sport grows in popularity nationwide, the rowing community has been closely following the development of Benderson Park's rowing venue, anticipating the chance to come to Florida, said Merry.
"It'll be the Disney World of rowing," Merry said Thursday by phone as he drove from Tampa to Sarasota.
He had just flown in from USRowing's headquarters in New Jersey to meet with an U.S. Olympic Committee official, whose organization is considering using Benderson Park as a training venue for Olympic rowers, Merry said.
Rissler said it was too early to comment on that possibility.
"Our hope is just that she will see how committed our region is to elite sports," Rissler said.
Benderson Park has previously hosted five USRowing events, including state and regional high school championships and the masters championships. It is also slated to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships and the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Championships.
The youth national championships are an invitation-only regatta for high school competitors ages 19 and younger. Crews are made up of students from top high schools or community-based clubs and must qualify for a bid by placing in one of 18 events at a recognized qualification regatta.
The event is scheduled for June 12-14, 2015.
The 2014 youth nationals are being held next month at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in California.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.