High School Championships
The first weekend of June each year marks the annual Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association championship regatta at the St. Catharines Rowing Club on Martindale Pond in Port Dalhousie. Dating back to its origins in 1946, it is more commonly referred to as the “Schoolboy” as it was early on nicknamed. But make no doubt, it is every bit as popular and exciting in the women’s categories, with an equal number of events for both males and females. (See www.cssra.ca for full information)
Over 2000 athletes descend upon this prestigious regatta from all across Canada and the United States. Large crews of as many as 50 rowers come from Brentwood School and Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island, as well as St. George’s School in Vancouver. Many of the local Niagara schools have solid rowing programs and compete at the highest level. In fact, E.L. Crossley in Fonthill has won the Cosgrove Trophy for the most combined points in Men’s and Women’s races for five years, with strong victories over teams from private schools like Branksome Hall, Havergal, Ridley and Upper Canada College. From the United States, expect strong showings from T C Williams School from Alexandria, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC. This is the school upon which the movie Remember The Titans was based. Canisius out of Buffalo and Saratoga Springs, a traditional powerhouse in rowing at all ages will also make their crews contenders. Most of the high schools in the Niagara Peninsula have rowing teams, although rowing is not a sport supported by the local school boards. These crews are funded by the athletes’ families and through fund-raising events.
Local rowers each year win huge victories in Philadelphia at the Stotesbury Cup 2 or 3 weeks prior, and with a win at the Schoolboy, comes the suggestion of being North American champions. Other regattas that have already taken place in late April and May include the Early Bird Regatta, the Mother’s Day Regatta, the OFSSA Regatta in London, and the West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo.
At the CSSRA Regatta, assuming weather conditions are normal, all races are 2000 metres long and start every 7 minutes on Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and every 6 minutes on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Race finals then take place on Sunday. Boats exit the starting position very close to the QEW and row past viewers and other team members around the 1000 metre mark on Henley Island, then continue on to the Finish line in front of the Grandstand in Port Dalhousie. After finals, the winning teams come to the dock in front of the grandstand and are awarded their medals and trophies immediately. Typically, the coxswain of the winning crew is thrown in the water by his or her team, a rowing tradition, long not understood.
There are many classes of races and rowers involved. There are Seniors and Juniors in each class depending on age as at January 1st. As well, for women there are three weight categories in each division, namely 59kg, 63 kg, and the Open weight class. For men, there is a 66kg, 72 kg and Open weight class. Averaging the crew weight is not allowed and every person in the crew must conform to the weight restrictions or be disqualified. For the coxswains, there is a minimum weight of 45 kg and extremely light weight coxie’s may have to add weight packs to their boats.
Admission to the regatta is very reasonable with 3-day all access packages at a little over $20 and less for seniors and students, or under $10 per day. Finals and medal presentations are best viewed from the grandstand, and be sure to bring binoculars. And if you venture on to Henley Island you will see the myriad of boat trailers, related consumer products and equipment, athletes, and their school colours and tents, and the boats themselves. A new 8-person boat with oars has a purchase value of over $30,000. Even a top-rated single scull and oars can be over $10,000. So be very careful, and alert when you are walking around. Listen carefully to the yell of “Heads Up” meaning get out of the way as a crew and boat are coming through.
But most of all, it’s all about the competition. Winning may be by a margin as short as a “bow ball” the rubber bumper at the front of a boat. It may be by “two seats” the distance between the winning crew across the finish line and the second boat being as close as the person sitting in the second seat of his boat. These rowers are the fittest athletes you will ever see. They have been training for this day for about eight months. What makes them succeed? They are motivated and committed athletes who must maintain a healthy balance of academic, athletic and co-curricular pursuits. They have abided by nutritional choices that would not have been their own. They are disciplined and dedicated, for if even one member of an eight man crew sleeps in past his 5:30 a.m. training time, the other seven do not get to go out in the boat. These rowers have outstanding volunteer coaches. There is terrific support from each other, and from their parents. They have built strong characters and self esteem. And as an added bonus, there will be many university scouts from the United States watching the rowers for future discussions with their coaches about scholarships to their schools. Our own National Development coaches will have a keen eye out for potential Canadian National Team members
I encourage even those completely unrelated to anyone competing to watch at least one of the day’s events and familiarize yourself with the sport. These are our future Olympic Medallists. And if you want to know how important rowing is to Canada, follow this thought: Canada has won 9 gold, 16 silver and 15 bronze medals for a total of 40 in Olympic rowing events. In contrast, we have only won 13, 5 and 2 for a total of 19 in ice hockey.