Championships offer a boatload full of history

Published: Saturday, Jun. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 - 7:32 am

Collegiate rowing may be the most venerable sport in the United States.

The championships have been held annually since 1895, far longer than most major college events such as March Madness, the College World Series and the BCS.

Steeped in history and considered the ultimate team event, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships are back on the West Coast for just the second time after a successful foray at Lake Natoma in 2009.

"Currently, you can't beat it," Washington coach Michael Callahan said of the 2,000-meter-long stretch of water from China Wall to Nimbus Flat that houses the six-lane course this weekend. "The Sacramento area does a great job with the amenities in the area, and it's a wonderful venue."

It's hard to argue with a coach who has led the Huskies to two consecutive IRA titles and three in the last five years. Washington is ranked No. 1 nationally after winning the Pacific-12 Conference championships at Lake Natoma on May 19.

The Huskies' five teams competing in trials Friday morning won their heats and advanced to today's semifinals. Cal – which has won 16 IRA titles, most recently in 2010 – also advanced all five of its boats to the semifinals.

The Sacramento State Aquatic Center at Lake Natoma is a mecca for the rowing community, and not only in Northern California.

"This is as big as it gets in collegiate men's rowing," said John McCasey, a former Cal sports information director and a consultant this weekend for the IRA. "This is a tremendous facility to showcase this region."

The amount of money expected to be spent by the teams and spectators this weekend also is a boost to the local economy.

"All of these teams that are coming in are purchasing equipment, eating out and supporting local retailers," said Mary Ann McAlea, Folsom's director of tourism. "And they bring in … this positive energy because it is a great spirit of competition."

More than $250,000 is expected to be spent at hotels alone, or what McCasey calls "heads in beds."

McCasey said it's not unreasonable to think "$1 million would be spent" over the course of the weekend at local retailers.

And there have been talks about having the IRA Championships at Lake Natoma every three years, according to McCasey.

Today's semifinals begin at 8:30 a.m. and are expected to be completed by 1 p.m. Sunday's championships begin at 8 a.m., capped by the varsity eight final at 12:20 p.m. that crowns the national champion.

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