Rowers start hitting local waters

BRADENTON -- A Canadian national rowing team will be among several newcomers this winter training on the Manatee River.

Early Thursday, Bradenton residents looked out on a glistening river to see the first delicate rowing shells of Boston’s Northeastern University sweep regally beneath the DeSoto Bridge.

“There’s no doubt about it, we’re all very happy to be here,” Northeastern Coach John Pojednic said Thursday.

“Everything is terrific, it’s exactly what we need for what we’re doing here.”

His team includes 35 men, a coaching staff of four, and 13 boats, he said. They are staying at the Hampton Inn at Ellenton.

Rowing Canada’s Under-23 National Team is expected Monday, numbering 30 athletes, according to a schedule provided by Paul Blackketter, project manager for Benderson Development Co.

The team, based in Toronto, is slated to stay through Jan. 12, and is scheduled to train at both Fort Hamer Park in Manatee and Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Also new to the area this year will be a women’s team from Georgetown University; and a team from the Kent School, a Connecticut boarding school.

Returning this year is Harvard University, along with Grand Valley State University, and Community Rowing, the Benderson schedule said.

Benderson is partnering with the two counties in offering world-class competitive rowing facilities that could eventually attract thousands to racing events.

Altogether, the company expects about 580 athletes, plus another 100 or so coaches and staff, to train this winter at Fort Hamer Park, south of Parrish; and at affiliated venues, Benderson Park, near the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway; and Blackburn Point Park, in Osprey.

“Certainly, from a city of Bradenton and Manatee County perspective, it continues to put our region on the map,” said Dave Gustafson, executive director for Bradenton’s Downtown Development Authority. “It’s a clean, green sport and anybody can do this sport, you don’t have to be elites to do this sport.”

Gustafson also noted a new interest among Manatee County high schools in developing rowing teams in the past year, adding, “It means scholarships, it means exposure to new sport opportunities.”

The rowing partnership has also spurred interest at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, which launched its first athletic team in February. The official announcement of its new USF Sarasota-Manatee Crew Team, in partnership with Sarasota Crew, occurred at Historic Spanish Point, in Osprey, officials said.

Rowing Canada is a nonprofit organization recognized by the Government of Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of rowing in Canada, according to its website.