Originally created 09/04/01

Rowers stress need for center



Three-time Olympic rower Sean Hall sees Augusta's value as an Olympic training ground. The mild winter climate and access to the Savannah River make the area ideal for year-round rowing.

But since USRowing, the sport's governing body, closed the Augusta Training Center in December, his efforts to live and train in the area - and attract other Olympic-caliber athletes to do the same - has been an upstream struggle.

A movement to secure funding for a private center to be run by the Augusta Rowing Club has been marginally successful. Club President Pete Fletcher said the group has raised $120,000 this year with a $200,000 target. The facility would be called the Augusta Sculling Center.

The need for a private center arose when USRowing pulled its equipment and influence out of the city that had produced a men's quadruple sculling team that won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

When USRowing left Augusta to consolidate operations, about 30 resident rowers also went. The departure hurt the city's reputation as a national and international training ground for Olympic hopefuls.

"The sculling center here never actually closed, but we lost most of our equipment," Mr. Hall said. "Since then we've been trying to stoke some interest in the business community about keeping Augusta a training area for Olympic hopefuls."

Funding would cover operational expenses such as equipment, travel costs for the athletes, coaches salaries and maintenance, Mr. Fletcher said.

"We need to raise more money to keep it going," Mr. Fletcher said. "If we could raise $150,000 a year, we could operate. We're close to that goal this year, but we're doing it one year at a time."

Mr. Hall is organizing a Masters Rowing Camp for Oct. 9 to 12, leading up to the area's fall rowing regatta, Head of the South, which begins Oct. 13.

"Master" is the official term for rowers older than 27 who do not compete at the Olympic level. The camp will offer masters throughout the country a chance to receive direction from Augusta's Olympic-level athletes and from internationally known sculling coach Igor Grinko.

The plan is to offer camps year-round to help pay the center's operating costs.

"There are about 10,000 registered masters in the United States," Mr. Hall said. "We've got some of the best water in the country ... While other areas are frozen, it's rowable here all year long. Augusta should certainly be a rowing destination."

Mr. Hall has enlisted the help of the Greater Augusta Sports Council for marketing the camps. The council's purpose is to attract overnight tourism and increase the city's quality of life through promoting sports events.

"We supported the camps by helping them design a comprehensive visitor's package," said Tammy Stout, the council's executive director.

The council helped design the promotional flyer, identify the products in the package, secure hotel rates and extracurricular activities and identify all the expenses.

"It's a good idea, and we just helped them fine-tune their thoughts they had already put on paper," Ms. Stout said. "Their expertise is in the sport. We brought our knowledge of how to put the packages together, and we were glad to do it. Having them here is a real asset to the community."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks@augusta.com.