The month of May could be designated “Crew Month” for scholastic crew teams with meets every week. F-M High School is one of only three local schools competing with varsity girls and boys rowing teams, and who participate in state and regional crew meets.
With our beautiful May weather, it’s easy not to think about the cold March and April mornings and evenings F-M crewsters spent on Onondaga Lake preparing for racing season — only a few weeks in May. Surely at times, the tranquil times on the water are deeply spiritual, but just as surely there are miserable times as well. While solitary rowing is one thing, crew teaming isn’t just about the water, the boats and the oars, but it is the ultimate team sport requiring personal commitment and dedication to precision.
Rowers are a special breed as evidenced by legendary competitors not only in the Olympics, but also in “Ivy League” rivalries on the Charles River, as well as on the Thames. But this is rowing’s mythical past, so enter Onondaga Lake as a scene of dramatic encounters from 1952 until it faded away in the 1990s. Throughout this time, but extending into the present have been Syracuse University, the Syracuse Chargers and the high school teams.
There wasn’t any one factor involved in the loss of the old IRA (International Racing Association) regatta. For sure, the pollution of Onondaga Lake played a large role, but there were other factors. One was the behavior of the fans at the celebrated yearly event, as unregulated consumption of alcohol led to public drunkenness requiring intervention by law enforcement. Another issue was a desire on the part of the IRA that Syracuse not be allowed to monopolize production of the Regatta, propelling its removal to another location.
Crew never left Syracuse, but, with the lake cleanup, rowing as a prominent recreational and competitive activity is on the verge of a comeback. Anyone interested in learning to row is invited to participate in a free “Learn to Row Day” on June 2, offered locally by the Syracuse Chargers.
As a crowning event, the third official “US Rowing Onondaga Cup and Lakefest” this year will celebrate the restoration of the lake as a crew racing venue with a loud bang. Onondaga Lake Park at Willow Bay once again will host not only local teams, but will mark the return of outside competitors from Buffalo and Rochester. The dream is to bring back championship rowing, bigger and better than ever.
Scheduled for Saturday, July 14, this year’s event in Onondaga Lake Park goes beyond being free by offering all day fun for the whole family. Whereas the races and park events begin at 9 a.m., the schedule continues until the awards ceremony after 5:30 p.m.
Beyond the crew team competition, other races on the lake continue throughout the afternoon. Teams, corporate and other groups face off in open championships, including paddle board, kayaking and canoe events. Kayak and canoe rentals are to be available.
The complete list of events is long and varied, whether you go for finish line seating in the grandstand or getting wet by entering an event — they are all free. Parking and shuttle buses will facilitate attendance by eliminating bottlenecks. There will be a Kid’s Zone with face painting, a bouncing arena and other activities.
If you wish, you won’t need to go near the water in order to find entertainment — there’s yoga in the park, fitness classes, live music, food and refreshments — take your pick. The celebration features local food, wine and brews. The live music won’t just be in the background — musicians will perform at scheduled times.
The Chobani company is sponsoring a “Culinary Cup” award competition involving chefs participating in a “Chopped!” style face off in which they vie to produce the best dish from the designated list of ingredients. A water skiing show will showcase thrilling stunts and specialties, and there will be a mermaid pool.
Those who wish to share the excitement of the sport of rowing will find plentiful information using the terms: Fayetteville Manlius Rowing; Syracuse Chargers Rowing; Onondaga Cup and Lakefest 2018.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.