SARASOTA -- A Bradenton family held its long-dreamed of reunion there.
A crew of rowers from Palmetto and Southeast High Schools showed their best stuff there.
A local rowing club, the Sarasota Crew, captured state championships there.
It all happened Saturday and Sunday at the Florida World Aquatic Center at Nathan Benderson Park near the Manatee-Sarasota county line, site of the 2012 Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Sweep Championship Regatta for high schools and youth clubs.
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Bradenton's Bill Langel, an AirTran commercial pilot, and his wife, Elizabeth Leapley, an AirTran flight attendant, also based in Bradenton, held a family reunion at the regatta so everyone could watch the rowing of Leapley's talented daughter, Katie Dube, 17.
Katie is a powerful stroker for the Melbourne High School Bulldogs on Florida's Space Coast.
"Rowing has pulled our whole family together," said Leapley, whose son, William Langel, 12, may follow in
his step-sister's rowing shoes someday if major league baseball doesn't work out.
Katie's father, Andre Dube, flew in from Montreal, Canada, and stayed in Bradenton to watch his daughter in a major event for the first time.
"I am big with a canoe, so maybe that's where she gets it," Dube said of Katie's powerful rowing technique, which helped "Mel" High finish among the leaders all weekend.
The Langel and Dube family members were part of an estimated weekend crowd of 10,000 at the BendersonPark.
After the roughly 40-team Saturday and Sunday event was over, Palmetto High, coached by Trish Jackson, had qualified four boats for the Scholastic Rowing National Championships in Camden, N.J., May 25-26.
"These kids have met and beat expectations all year," Jackson said of the Tigers, who had a strong rooting section comprised of moms like Judy Mohler, Dana Mohler, Shelly Burton, Jan Monaghan, Tammy Brouwer and Debbie Wessel, just to name a few.
"Our kids went after it like wild animals after raw meat," the poetic Jackson added.
Jackson, who is also coach of the Southeast rowing team, also had praise for the Noles, who just started their program and didn't advance Sunday.
"They are novices but still had guts to compete," Jackson said of Southeast, which fielded one boat of four boy rowers.
The Palmetto Girls 8 Junior boat advanced to New Jersey behind the powerful rowing of Josette MacPhail, Colleen Monaghan, Samantha Theising, Shelby Falsetti, Lauren Bedford, Hannah McCollough, Addie Pratico and Jackie Roberts. Their coxswain was Callie Bedford.
The Palmetto Boys 8 Junior qualified behind Beau Wessel, James Burton, Jerome Robinson, Grant Fletcher, Trevor Lovett, Clayton Flournay, Riley Thornton and Gus Brouwer. Their coxswain was Idallas Quinones.
The Palmetto Girls 4 Varsity boat advanced behind Brandi Achenbach, Stephanie Brouwer, Erin Monaghan and Brooke Mailloux.
Their coxswain was Sarah Hibbard, a rower who was recruited at the last minute to be coxswain for the first time, Jackson said.
The Palmetto Boys 4 Varsity boat qualified behind rowing team captain Michael Mohler, fellow captain Jensen Newhall, Todd Chastain and Luke Myhree. Their coxswain was Emily Whisenant.
The gutsy Southeast boat was comprised of Kaden Henslick, Vishnu Muhunnad, his brother Krishna Muhunnad and Connor Yaros. Their coxswain was Coral Nimz.
"Considering what they were up against, the Southeast rowers did really well," Jackson said.
Manatee High School will start its program next year, while Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and Bayshore high schools do not have rowing yet, Jackson added.
Behind star rower McKayla Taafe, 17, who is heading to Stanford, Sarasota Crew and its 125 highly-conditioned athletes, some of whom train 24 hours a week, captured overall and various other state championship titles for clubs at the event.
For those who would like to support Palmetto, Southeast and Manatee high school rowing, a Cinco de Mayo 5K race and 1K fun run or walk is set for 7:30 a.m. Saturday at the Fort Hamer Rowing Facility in Parrish.
Sign up is $25 with monies going to Manatee County Youth Rowing, said organizer Jan Monaghan.
Participants are asked to register from 6:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. on race day. Information: 727-656-1902