As we enter racing season, row2k sat down with the directors of a few early spring regattas to find out how 2022 might look different as they prepare their venues, staff and volunteers to stage events in this third spring of the global pandemic.
The three regatta directors we contacted had planned “back to normal” events in 2022, but found themselves finalizing their events during the Omicron surge. We asked each of them to tell us about their biggest challenges and what they learned here in 2022.
San Diego Crew Classic
In 2020, Bobbie Smith, director of “The Rowing Season Starts Here” regatta in San Diego, had to completely cancel the Crew Classic as the country went into lockdown, then uncertainty and state restrictions limited the 2021 edition in a virtual format.
Biggest challenge getting people back to Mission Bay in 2022? “Omicron,” Smith says. “Having a new variant that everyone is worried about has definitely held back the regatta for a while. We had over 100 entries in the last three days before our early bird entry deadline. It was both nerve-wracking and incredible. to see. Also, tracking the requirements around Covid safety issues. They have constantly changed over the last month and even the rules we sent out earlier this month for our brunch have changed since we sent them out. It’s an ever-changing landscape.
“People are still apprehensive about travel,” Smith learned, “and most are unwilling to enroll as far as they have in recent years. There is also a lot of caution and d “Cautious optimism. Personally, we hope people are even more excited for next year and no fear of Covid like Omicron happened this year, as this will be our 50th San Diego Crew Classic.”
In Philadelphia, Leslie Pfeil and the Philadelphia Scholastic Rowing Association only lost 2020 to COVID, managing to make a smaller, more local version of “the Flicks” in 2021. Already, she says, 2022 is “very different because more people are vaccinated and cases are down.”
“First, the biggest challenge this year is getting spectators back. We didn’t allow them last year and so it’s been two years since we’ve had them, and a lot of parents – most parents – are new. The only ones there in 2019 were first grade parents, so it was difficult to brief everyone on procedures for entering the site, parking, setting up team tents, what they can and can’t do, etc. We started from scratch with our parent listserv and even getting contacts for this list was difficult.”
Pfeil, the PSRA President, also highlighted the turnover of coaches: “The PSRA has over 70 member teams and 15 of these teams have new coaches who have never attended one of our regattas and need help in learning the tricks of the trade.”
“Third,” she says, “recruiting volunteers has been a big challenge. The big resignation has affected volunteers and because most parents are new to our regattas, many don’t know how dependent we are on the helping volunteers. Last year we reduced the number of volunteers we used due to COVID, but now that we have returning spectators, there are more tasks and the need for volunteers. We also have lost volunteers in the past two years; they left during the two-year hiatus.
What Pfiel has learned, and can pass on, is that these three challenges combined make 2022 a little different: “You just have to make people, spectators and participants, aware of what really happens during a regatta and what their role should be. Be advised, for many people it has been two years since they took part in a regatta and for many others it will be a totally new experience.”
California Challenge Cup
UC Irvine head coach AJ Brooks was actually able to stage his 2020 regatta: On February 29, just weeks before the shutdowns, the California Challenge Cup was among the last pre-COVID rowing events , but was later canceled completely in 2021. under California’s then-current pandemic restrictions.
For this 2020 regatta, Brooks had just reinvigorated the racing format, introducing a round robin of shorter races to this UC invitational event that the late Duvall Hecht started in 2016. The changes allowed Brooks to move the race to the friendly Newport Harbor waterfront. Lido Reach, attracting sponsors who now pay for the regatta’s six trophies and cover all entry fees, but the move also meant that 2022 was only the second time to meet the logistical challenges of the new venue.
The 2022 edition, in its new home, was scheduled for the first weekend in March, which meant that Omicron’s mid-winter surge was almost a spectacle for Brooks:
“I didn’t even start planning the regatta until February, with the middle of Omicron, January closing. We were a distance school for the first two weeks of term. So when we got the green light for outdoor activities to be allowed we’re like okay full steam ahead let’s start planning A big part was Brandin Grams who runs The Rowing Channel he was extremely helpful in some of the logistics and he handled the live broadcast and the timing. We pretty much said the whole regatta together in about six weeks.”
During that short window, Brooks learned that the key to success is “making sure you have the right people in place to help run the regatta and to give people some ownership over different products.” For 2022, this included the arrival of Grams and TRC live streaming, re-engagement with its sponsor group, and having UC Irvine rowers promote the regatta on campus. The team – who as club athletes also help organize the event – were able to bring over 600 spectators to the beach during the race.
Brooks also credited the announcer talent they were able to add to the livestream, which featured Bob Ernst and Jim Jorgenson.
“Completely announcing is also another key to running a regatta. When you have good announcers it makes such a difference. For all those parents who don’t know rowing? It keeps them engaged enough to stick around . ”
That would certainly be the hope of all rowers – and regatta directors – out there in 2022: getting to “stay for the race” now that COVID and the restrictions that have shut down rowing and impacted regattas large and small for the best part of two years now seems behind us.