Collegiate rowing teams from the North have practiced on the Hillsborough River since the 1940s, but Tampa hasn't had many regattas like the ones in Boston or Philadelphia that draw thousands of spectators and are as much a social event as a race.
Local business owner Ken Walters hopes to bring such a tradition to Tampa. Walters and the Stewards Foundation of Tampa, which aims to get students in the area involved in the sport, will host the second annual Roosevelt Rowing Regatta in Curtis Hixon Park this weekend.
Walters wants to see people enjoy the sport, the river and the park.
"That area of downtown is historic, being across from the old Tampa Bay Hotel, now the University of Tampa," he said. The regatta is named for Theodore Roosevelt, who stayed at the Tampa Bay Hotel before shipping out to Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.
The first regatta last year drew about 350 people. This year, Walters hopes the free general admission will increase attendance. VIP tickets will also be available for $45 for nonreserved seating and $100 for reserved seating.
Proceeds from the regatta will help the Stewards Foundation purchase equipment and fund scholarships for local students to participate in rowing. Six area schools have teams, and students who go to schools without a rowing program can join the foundation's team. The foundation has 80 middle and high school students this year, and provides scholarships for about 25 of them.
The foundation also works with the city of Tampa to offer summer rowing camps. The partnership funds the summer programs and provides the boats, equipment and coaching.
Rowing teaches teamwork and responsibility, said Tom Feaster, president of the Stewards Foundation.
"These kids learn that they need to show up and they need to practice, because they don't want to let their teammates down."
Each of the area high schools with rowing programs will compete in the regatta — Plant High School, Hillsborough High, the Academy of the Holy Names, Berkeley Preparatory School, Tampa Prep and Tampa Catholic — along with the Stewards Foundation teams.
Teams from the University of Tampa, the University of South Florida, Georgetown University and George Washington University and four club teams from Tampa also will compete.
Tonight will feature a "GLO" lantern launch on the river. Proceeds from this night will benefit the Children's Dream Fund, which fulfills the dreams of children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Go for free, purchase a VIP ticket, or buy a lantern for $20 in honor of a child or a family member. Go to childrensdreamfund.org/events/upcoming-events/glo.
Saturday will feature rowing races all day. Sunday will be a day of paddleboard, kayak and dragon boat races.
The weekend will include live jazz, games, food trucks and seafood from local restaurants.
For all the details, visit rooseveltrowingregatta.com.
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]