BY COLLEEN SAVILLE
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The American Collegiate Rowing Association announced that the 2021 ACRA championship will be held in Oak Ridge, Tenn., May 21 to 23. The move is a departure from Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Ga., a course built for the 1996 Olympic rowing events and where the championship has been held uninterrupted since 2011. The 2021 regatta will be Oak Ridge’s second time hosting the championship, the last being 2009.
Cameron Brown, president of the ACRA and the men’s head rowing coach at Orange Coast College, said that while Lake Lanier has served well over the years, opening up to bid was appealing for several reasons.
“We decided to make the move in part to test the waters, to see what the current rowing-venue landscape is like. One of the biggest motivating factors for us was the cost of the regatta and cost of travel for attendees. We got bids from four or five different venues from around the country, and after reviewing each carefully, decided that Melton Lake was the best option for us.”
Because the ACRA is composed of self-funded club rowing organizations, one of the biggest challenges athletes face is covering the cost of race-related travel.
“The cost of travel,” Brown says, “especially for teams from the West Coast and Northeast is a significant factor. And so even though Oak Ridge is still quite a big trip for those teams, it seems like the cost of attendance should be a little easier for them.”
The course itself is also highly functional, with long, dedicated warmup areas and a seven-lane buoyed race course. In addition, Melton Lake will be closed to all other boat traffic during championship weekend, thereby eliminating wake from leisure boats. For a regatta that has historically fallen on Memorial Day weekend, this is key. “It’s a huge advantage for Melton Lake,” Brown says.
After a canceled 2020 season because of COVID-19, Brown is more enthusiastic than ever about what is to come.
“I want people to really experience the regatta. In 2019, we had 1,700 athletes and over 75 programs. It’s a big championship, and the level of racing at the top is really quite high. You can ask any ACRA head coach, Who will be at the medals stand? and I don’t think any of them can give you an answer with certainty. That’s not the case with every regatta. It makes it fun and exciting, and that’s what I would encourage people to pay attention to. That’s why we race. Our goal is to bring that experience to our athletes and spectators in Oak Ridge.”