MANATEE -- Rowing teams from as far north as Indianapolis, as well as teams from the United Kingdom and Canada, will converge on Sarasota this weekend for the third annual Sarasota Invitational.
An expected 1,500 rowers, consisting of 57 rowing clubs from 11 states, will be at Nathan Benderson Park to compete in the event, which begins at 8 a.m. today. The invitational ends Sunday evening.
Many of the crews competing are high school and club programs, which include local teams like Sarasota Crew, Palmetto High School, Southeast High School and Sarasota Scullers. In addition, middle school rowers will have an opportunity to tackle the 2,000-meter course on the lake today. On Sunday, the adult master rowers will compete.
The event is one of the first regattas of the season in Florida and one of the first outdoor regattas of the year in the country, said Norman Thetford, director of the invitational.
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“There are a few multi-day regattas that have more races,” Thetford said, “but for a weekend regatta to have nearly 700 entries is pretty amazing, especially in its third year.”
The Florid State Rowing Association and Florida Interscholastic Rowing Association will hold championships at the course in April and many of the teams that have registered are hoping to get familiar with the eight-lane course.
Teams are also seeded for state championships based on performances throughout the year.
The invitational has grown into one of the largest amateur regattas in Florida. In its inaugural year, the invitational had more than 300 boat entries and 600 competitors. In 2011, it increased to 450 boat entries with more than 1,000 competitors.
Officials said the event had a $400,000 impact on the regional economy in 2011 and are expecting a similar amount this year, if not more.
“It’s room nights, money spent on restaurants and gas,” said Jason Puckett, director of sports for the Sarasota Sports Commission. “It generates local tax dollars, which is great.”
Admission to the park is free, while the cost of parking is $5. There will be free shuttle service from the parking lot to various points within the park.
“We’re very excited about the event because it’s a locally created event,” Puckett said. “It’s limitless to how big it can grow.”
The Canadian Olympic Rowing team recently trained on the course and the state Senate has adopted an amendment to provide $1 million for the facility.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7049. Tweet: @_1NickWilliams