Fred Russell's first experience with Augusta's rowing scene turned out to be more than he bargained for.
The Augusta city administrator spotted a vehicle with a Virginia Tech sticker as he was driving on Broad Street last week. He followed the car to the Savannah River and learned that the handful of occupants were rowers who came to the city to train for upcoming events.
As an alumnus of Virginia Tech, he figured that the polite thing to do would be to invite them out for pizza.
"The nine or 10 that I saw turned out to be 66," Russell said with a laugh Monday. "But I got a $439 T-shirt."
Russell was among the handful of officials on hand Monday at The Boathouse to kick off festivities for this week's 22nd annual Aiken-Augusta Invitational Regatta.
The event will be held at Langley Pond on Saturday and will feature more than 20 crews.
The experience Russell had with the Virginia Tech group exemplifies just how large the rowing scene has become in Augusta.
Six schools are training now, and more are expected to come in throughout the month.
Russell took time out last weekend to watch the team compete in the Southeast Regional Sprints on Langley Pond. The event ended prematurely because of gusty conditions.
"I thought it was pretty neat," Russell said. "I was impressed."
About 1,000 rowers will be on hand for Saturday's event, said George Fry Jr., the regatta director.
"We're hoping to take it to a completely new level," he said.
The Augusta Rowing Club has combined sponsorships for this race and the Head of the South Regatta, which is held in the fall. The club also is trying to put an emphasis on festivities for the week before the spring event.
Fry said a renovation of the club's facilities at The Boathouse makes Augusta even more attractive. The crews stay at downtown hotels and can make the short commute to the river.
"It's a great situation for the coaches and crews coming in," he said.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Aiken-Augusta Invitational Regatta
When: Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday; finals begin at 12:30 p.m.
Where: Langley Pond
Who: Twenty-five teams have committed so far, including 14 college crews, seven junior crews and four open crews. About 1,000 rowers will participate.
More information: Contact the Augusta Rowing Club at (706) 821-2875