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The URA championship regatta was originally conceived as a dual race between Case Western Reserve and the University of Chicago. Doug Rathburn rowed for CWRU as an undergraduate and for Chicago while getting his MBA. While rowing for Chicago he wanted to race his old team, but the only common race for the two clubs was Dad Vails. Being a graduate student excluded Doug from that competition so the idea of the dual race was born. He knew both sets of coaches so generating interest was not a problem.
Neither Cleveland nor Chicago have great water to hold a dual race so Doug inquired at the Indianapolis Rowing Center to see if the two teams could "meet in the middle" for a friendly scrimmage. However, setting up the race for only two teams seemed to be a waste. Inviting a few more teams did not require additional work so the coaches came up with the idea of the other teams from their athletic conference. Teams whose varsity sports compete in the University Athletic Association were the only ones invited and what has resulted is the de facto conference championship. It also helped that all eight universities in the UAA had club rowing teams, which helps ensure a very even and competitive race.
The First Race
The first regatta was called the Eagle Creek Invitational Regatta and saw six of eight schools attend: CWRU, Chicago, Rochester, WashU, Carnegie-Mellon and Emory. The regatta got its name from Eagle Creek Park, which is the home of the Indianapolis Rowing Center. The weather was windy and cold, but the head coaches began to see the benefit of a low-key competitive race in the early spring against their peer schools.
Many regatta traditions started at this first event. Each team bets their racing shirts, coaches and rowers volunteer to run the regatta and everyone gathers at the end of the day to share in each other's success.
The regatta has been supported by alumni since day one. The men's and women's point trophies were donated by alumni of CWRU and Chicago. The Jonathon Milikowski Cup was donated by Carnegie-Mellon in 2007 to honor their teammate and coach who had passed away the previous year. Many alumni continue to believe in the benefit of the race and give generously of their time and money to ensure the future of the race.
A New Conference Championship
The windy weather of the first race did not dampen the coach's and athlete's enthusiasm for the event. Doug and the coaches tried to work with the University Athletic Association to get the race officially sanctioned as a "club conference championship", but the officials and athletic directors were not interested.
Even though the UAA does not sanction our race as a conference championship, only teams from the UAA are invited. Therefore, the coaches decided to form the University Rowing Association and hold our own annual championship.
The race exists to provide the student athletes of the UAA a competitive regatta against their peers. If you have never been to a regatta where a "club" team from a state university shows up to a race with 100 athletes and beats everyone handily then you may not appreciate the URA championships. Yes, everyone goes to college for an education, but the UAA schools are slightly different. A majority of students at these schools go on to some form of graduate school and become tomorrow's leaders. Each UAA school is ranked in the top 50 academically with similar sized student bodies and high tuition levels. The pressure to perform in the classroom, in training and for fundraising is exactly the same for each participant -- a statement that can't always be made for other teams and other regattas.
During the awards ceremony each year, the student athletes are reminded that the winners earned their hardware. Those not finishing first know for certain that they lost to people just like them -- future doctors, lawyers, post-docs and businessmen. There are no excuses other than the gold medal went to the faster crew.
Change of Venue
New York and Boston are far away from Indianapolis and this distance prevented NYU and Brandeis from attending that first year. The desire to include the east coast schools and the notoriously nasty weather in Indianapolis spurred the coaches to find a more desirable location. Donald Webber-Plank, head coach of CMU, suggested Lake Arthur just north of Pittsburgh. Three Rivers Rowing Association had used the lake numerous times for regattas, and its relatively central location made it ideal for most of the UAA schools.
The decision was made to hold the regatta at Lake Arthur beginning in 2005 and it has been held there ever since.
The Worst Regatta Ever
This seems like a funny heading, but unfortunately the second running of the race was greeted with high winds and near freezing temperatures. There are no docks at the lake so rowers have to wade their shells into the water, and on this day it was an exceptionally cold experience. One attendee created a myspace page dubbing the race as the "worst regatta ever".
However, what that rower did not realize was that every other regatta held east of the Mississippi was canceled that day due to inclement weather. Our portion of the lake is so sheltered and perfect for racing that no one was in danger and the conditions across all lanes remained fair. So even though it was cold and rainy, at least everyone got to race and money spent on travel was not wasted. Luckily, this fact was not lost on the coaches so we now return to the venue every year.
An Early Season Test
As the race has matured, competition between each club has heated up (and the weather has improved). Due to the nature of club rowing, the size and speed of teams ebb and flow. Each year that the race has been held the racing has gotten deeper with more boats and closer with faster racing across the board.
For may of the teams, this regatta has become test of the effectiveness of their long winter training regime. Many winners of the URA Championships now go on to semi-finals and finals of the Dad Vails Regatta, the national championship.
Hiatus & Return in 2016
After the 2011 event there was significant turnover within the core group of coaches that held the regatta together. Also, the regatta organizer, Doug Rathburn, moved out of the country. With Doug's return and a dedicated group of coaches back on board we are bringing the event back in 2016. The 2016 event will be held at the Indianapolis Rowing Center.