Thousands of rowers to descend on Waco for state championships in April

Waco Tribune-Herald

Mike Copeland

Next month’s Texas State Rowing Championships are headed for the sheltered waters of Tradinghouse Lake in eastern McLennan County.

“The hotel community is excited about it. Teams have been booking rooms for several weeks now,” said Carla Pendergraft, the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau’s assistant director of tourism.

McLennan County commissioners recently approved allowing races at the lake east of Waco, near Hallsburg and State Highway 6. Popular with anglers and once a cooling pond for a gas-fired power plant, the lake and its beaches are fresh off $350,000 in grant-funded upgrades in 2020 that include new restrooms, paved parking, lighting, benches, picnic tables and improved docking space.

But the lake’s location in rolling hills that serve as wind buffers makes it ideal for rowing competition, especially the relatively short races planned for April, said Waco Rowing Center Executive Director Matthew Scheuritzel, who has joined Luke Walton in championing the rowing cause locally. The Waco Rowing Center also managed November’s Waco Rowing Regatta on the Brazos River, from McLane Stadium to Brazos Park East.

The fall competition brought out about 1,000 athletes for a 5,000-meter head race, with competitors starting one at a time. The state championships scheduled April 21 to April 23 will feature a 2,000-meter course and side-by-side starts.

Scheuritzel said he is confident the event will attract enthusiasts from Dallas, Austin and Houston as East Coast regattas draw regionally from New York to Virginia.

“We’re hoping to get about 2,500 athletes, though we’d like to see that creep up to 3,000,” he said. “Teams are coming from all over Texas, but we’re seeing interest from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, even across the border in Mexico. The finals are that Sunday, so they will come in and practice on Friday, stay overnight Saturday, and stay overnight Sunday.”

Scheuritzel said the sport is making waves in Texas, one of the fastest growing states for rowing, and Tradinghouse Lake manifests itself as a jewel not commonly found in the Lone Star State. He said it typically is not choppy, and conditions lend themselves to the sprint racing format. Lake Waco serves recreational purposes as a large body of water, and the Brazos River affords a setting possibly unrivaled nationally, but Tradinghouse boasts its own charms rowing fans find appealing, Scheuritzel said.

Preparing Tradinghouse for its big day, Waco Rowing Club will install temporary docking areas and temporary course lanes. But looking long-term, it also will place “permanent non-visible elements that will allow us to restructure the course within a day,” he said. The unobtrusive underwater cabling will pose no threat to anglers or boaters, Scheuritzel said.

“They actually went out and measured wind speed on a windy day,” McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said. “That’s something I’ve noticed through the years. Water skiers like to ski there because it does not have a lot of crosswind.”

Felton, who recently toured the lake with organizers, would not hazard a guess of potential crowd size. He said his survey while driving during Waco Rowing’s November regatta on the Brazos River revealed “a lot of vehicles, a lot of boat trailers.”

“This event, Texas State Rowing Championships, is definitely on our radar. It is a first-time event,” Pendergraft said in an email. “It was formerly held on Lady Bird Lake (in Austin) and White Rock Lake (in Dallas). We are pleased it is being held in the Waco area so our hotels, restaurants, and shops can benefit from it.”

Pendergraft said to her knowledge the races will be the largest event that weekend in Greater Waco, though the Texas Gun Collectors Association has reserved space for its Texas Ranger Bicentennial Celebration.

Felton said water levels have dropped at Tradinghouse Lake, as they have at reservoirs statewide, but conditions should not threaten the race.

“Boat ramps are closed, but they don’t need those. They walk these boats into the water by hand,” Felton said. “The sponsors will make sure everyone has a decent place to watch the races. They are in charge of security, emergency management and trash pick-up. Our costs will involve what we normally do, keeping the beaches clean and adding more sand if we need to.

“We may have a few people working overtime, but we’re not looking at this as costing anything. It will benefit the local economy, drive overnight stays. People may take the opportunity to eat out or go shopping.”

Scheuritzel said the event is sanctioned by USRowing, the organizing rowing body that will furnish judges and liability insurance. He said visitors will have access to refreshments and entertainment while attending the championships, which feature rowing shells made of carbon fiber that accommodate one, two, four or nine competitors. He said entry fees will go a long way toward covering expenses related to the event.

Preparations include an inclement weather plan, which outlines actions during watches and warnings and severe weather evacuation.

“Being on the water when lightning is within a 10-mile radius is not allowed,” it states.

Each day, site staffing will include emergency medical technicians, McLennan County deputies, YMCA lifeguards and Baylor Scott & White nurses. EMTs will have an ambulance at their disposal, and the Waco Fire Department will be on call.

Asked if he sees this becoming an annual event at Tradinghouse Lake, Scheuritzel replied, “Absolutely.”

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