For the first time since 2019, the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association (CSSRA) Regatta will be held on Martindale Pond in St. Catharines.
While entries will be down about 25 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, regatta chair Ken Campbell is “pleasantly pleased” that his worst fear of a much larger decrease won’t be realized.
After COVID-19 restrictions canceled the national high school championships in each of the past two years, he was concerned entries could drop by half.
“’Pleasantly pleased’ aren’t really the right words, but I was expecting our entries to be down by almost 50 per cent, 40 per cent,” Campbell said. “We’re maybe down 25 per cent in our entries, but we’re down 50 per cent in our athlete numbers.
“We will have fewer athletes racing in more events.”
Losses in the number of teams from across Canada are across the board. In terms of participation, not one area was hit harder than another.
That’s not the case with international crews.
“This year there are only nine teams from the United States, where normally we would have 15 or 16 teams,” Campbell said. “A lot of that is because schools aren’t allowing international travel in a lot of places.”
Also not back to pre-pandemic levels are the number of volunteers who help to put on the three-day event. Normally, 300 to 350 people work the regatta but organizers are “are still struggling with volunteers” heading Friday’s opening day of the three-day event.
“The effect of COVID is still out there. People aren’t ready to jump back in yet,” he said. “We’re probably at the 200 to 250 mark.”
“Some of our areas are going to a bare-bone minimum.”
However, there is some hope on the horizon when it comes to getting more helping hands on the deck. In the past few days, Campbell has heard from school teams that offer parents who are attending the regatta, as well as coaches who only have one or two crews racing.
“They are offering to step up if we need people to help out,” he said.
Novices classes are being reintroduced this year, and two mixed events — doubles and quads — will be contested for the first time.
Anyone who has not competed in a regatta as of Sept. 1, 2021, can row as a novice.
“All those athletes who were in Grade 9 and 10 during those years are now in 11 and 12. They never got a chance to row,” Campbell said. “Now, they’re senior-age athletes and it’s tough to get a student to jump on board to just start rowing in Grade 11 or Grade 12 and competing against other seniors who may have rowed in the past.”
Increasing participation after two years of no regattas at the high school level also prompted the CSSRA to add mixed crews to the lineup.
“For some of these smaller schools, they may only have one or two athletes. They can row in a male or female single and then put them together to row in a double for their school,” Campbell said.
He thinks while the mixed categories will “probably stay, the novice categories may go away once we get one or two years of regrowth.”
A third change taking place at this weekend’s regatta involves qualifying for events with 22 or more entries. Instead of waves of qualifying heats over a 30- to 45-minute timeframe, time trials will be held.
“It’s more like a head race,” Campbell said. “One crew starts, 30 seconds later another crew starts and so forth to go through all the boats in that race.”
Besides speeding up qualifying, time trials have the bonus of levelling the playing field in events with a large number of entries.
“By the time you got through all the heats, there may be a half-hour, 45-minutes time difference from the first heat to the last heat,” Campbell said. “Weather conditions and course conditions could change over that time, so crews at the beginning of the pack may get better water than crews at the back of the pack of those heats.
“This way we can do more crews in a faster time frame where the conditions will likely be more even.”
As of Tuesday, three events would require time trials: senior men’s lightweight 72-kilogram single, 28 entries; senior women’s double, 27; novice men’s coxed quad, 25.
Senior women’s lightweight 63-kg double was listed as having 21 entries, and senior men’s single, junior women’s double and junior women’s single 20 each.
Finals in each of 42 events will take place Sunday beginning with the junior women’s lightweight 59-kg coxed quad at 8 am and wrapping up with the senior men’s eight, for the Calder Cleland Memorial Trophy, at 3:15 pm
One of the most expensive trophies in Canadian sports, “The Calder” is an Omar Khayyan wine jug that features leaves of gold and silver entwined around winged dragons and hunting scenes.
It is returned to St. Catharines Public Library for display at the conclusion of the CSSRA Regatta.