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High school rowers enjoy 'home' meet on Allegheny

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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Members of First Row, a team of Pittsburgh public and charter students, had a breakout performance during the Scholastic Sprints earlier this month on the Allegheny River.

With regional and national championships approaching, high school rowers across the area experienced a rare opportunity to compete at home at the Scholastic Sprints Regatta on the Allegheny River this month.

Ten teams rowed on a 1,500-meter course with a floating start in Millvale.

North Allegheny (22) and Fox Chapel (16) won the most medals by finishing in the top three in men's and women's events.

“Teams travel a lot,” said organizer Mark Bellinger, who coaches Fox Chapel. “We try to get them some races here.”

“It was fantastic not spending hours on a bus,” North Allegheny men's coach Megan Batykefer said. “We got a good tune-up for the big meets ahead.”

North Allegheny senior Kaitlyn Clem found the course helpful in preparing for the regional championship.

“It's about the same length as the one we'll have there,” said Clem, 18.

Teams will compete in regional regattas in Ohio in order to qualify for the USRowing Youth National Championships, to be held in Oak Ridge, Tenn. next month.

Besides being beneficial to rowers, Scholastic Sprints, in its 20th year, was ideal for friends and relatives who normally do not attend competitions, said Rick Brown, head of the Three Rivers Rowing Association, which served as sponsor.

“Grandparents were there for (boat) launch,” said Central Catholic coach Jay Hammond, noting his team has a strong following no matter where it competes.

A medalist in three events, Fox Chapel junior Grant Gaydosh was proud his girlfriend, as well as his grandmother, was on hand.

“It was nice to have a home-court advantage,” said Gaydosh, 16.

Fox Chapel senior coxswain Kelly Power, 18, was happy to hear her parents cheering wildly.

“Normally I don't hear them, but I heard them this time,” said Power, whose grandfather and aunt also were spectators.

Inspired by the home crowd, First Row, a women's team of Pittsburgh public and charter school students formed in 2009, captured four medals, including a silver in varsity 2, where it fielded a pair (Sydney Sandidge and Alexis Battista) for the first time.

“It was our best showing so far,” coach Joy Nix said. “We sent some girls to the Governor's Cup (Regatta) in Columbus, Ohio, but they were varsity only.”

“I (watched) First Row at the start of several races and was impressed by the significant improvement in technique and speed that I saw in several of their boats,” Bellinger said.

Competing in two novice events, Kausar Shaikh, a junior at the Creative and Performing Arts School, was nervous at first.

“I felt better after the first race,” said Shaikh, 16.

Jean'a Lipscomb, a junior at City Charter High School, enjoyed rowing outdoors.

“Everyone kept saying how beautiful the setting is,” said Lipscomb, 16. “I liked it when I looked up and saw my parents at the finish (line).”

First Row will compete at the Pittsford Regatta in New York next weekend.

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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