UNIVERSITY PARK -- For rowers, winter is often considered the sport's slow season and U.S. Rowing is capitalizing on that perception to train its referees.
As they have for the past two years, U.S. Rowing will hold two clinics at Nathan Benderson Park -- one in January and one in February -- to train rowing referees from across the U.S.
The Basic Skills School, which is intended for people with one to four years of licensed referee experience, will be held at Benderson Park, 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, from Jan. 9-11 and Feb. 6-8.
"(Referee college) assures that the U.S. Rowing referee core interprets the rules of rowing and applies the rules of rowing consistently regardless of where they are rowing (in the U.S.)," U.S. Rowing Director of Referee Programs John Wik said.
In the January session, 20 referees from the U.S. are expected to attend and 26 referees are expected in February, Wik said. There will also be athletes from Sarasota and Manatee county rowing clubs and masters groups participating in addition to providing the boats.
During each of the two sessions, there will be a short rowing course -- 200 to 250 meters -- set up on the water at Benderson Park and the student referees will be
at the start, aligning area and at the launches on the water. Senior referees will be stationed with the student referees to guide and provide comments and critiques of the refereeing, Wik said.
"It is much more effective to do hands-on training than just in the classroom setting," Wik said.
Wik said U.S. Rowing wanted to return to Benderson Park for the third year to hold the referee colleges because the park "provides one of the best venues for rowing in the country."
"They have one of the best race courses in the country for the sport of rowing," he said, adding that the warm weather in Sarasota is a plus. "The climate is very important ... We look to winter months for training sessions."
In more than two years, the 2017 World Rowing Championships will be at Benderson Park but while the referees at the championships will be FISA referees, U.S. Rowing referees will be support for the officials who will do the officiating.
"We recognize that Nathan Benderson Park is going to become more and more important on the world stage as a rowing venue," Wik said. "The larger the group of officials we can get in the Sarasota area, the better the experience will be for the athletes that show up there whether they are from the national or international stage."
Because of the frequency of the rowing events at Benderson Park, Paul Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, the nonprofit that runs Benderson Park, said they have to build the referee core locally.
"U.S. Rowing is definitely committed to the venue and have identified the need for more referees to support the frequency of events we are having," Blackketter said, adding that recruiting local referees is "critical."
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.