published Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Chattanooga likely to remain Head of the Hooch as weekend's rowing regatta bigger than ever

Rowers compete in the 2012 Head of the Hooch regatta on the Tennessee River. Ross’s Landing is the finish line for the timed, 3.1-mile races.
Rowers compete in the 2012 Head of the Hooch regatta on the Tennessee River. Ross’s Landing is the finish line for the timed, 3.1-mile races.

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For information on today's races, visit www.headofthehooch.org. See a slide show of Saturday's race action at timesfreepress.com.

Boy, do competitive rowers like Cold Stone Creamery.

"We might be a little bit busier than Riverbend," Derek Myers, assistant manager at Cold Stone, said Saturday afternoon.

It was the middle of Head of the Hooch weekend, with 5,000 high school, college and master's-level rowers and 10,000 spectators in town. And the riverfront businesses, like The Blue Plate and Cold Stone, were hopping.

"It's definitely mostly rowers," Myers said, a line of customers zigzagging in the store's lobby behind him.

Outside Cold Stone, the University of Texas women's rowers were coming off the choppy Tennessee River.

"It was a little windy, yeah. Not bad, but they felt it for sure," said Caroline King, assistant rowing coach at UT.

King's squad is one of many teams from 30 states that came to Chattanooga for the races. Rowers race the clock on a 3.1 mile (5,000-meter) course that ends at Ross's Landing. There are nearly 50 events in each of the two days.

For the Texas rowers, it wasn't a championship event. Fall is the rowing off-season.

But it's still one of 10 or 11 competitions the Texas teams -- men and women -- travel to annually.

It's a great chance to gauge the team against stiff competition and see what happens. No first-place finishes for Texas on Saturday. But there was a quality third-place finish.

"It's always a big deal if we can win this race in any of the competitions," King said.

And if not, "that's a good little kick in the butt for us."

King said UT brought 60 rowers to the event, 30 men's and women's varsity athletes and 30 men's and women's walk-ons.

Emily Carter is a freshman walk-on with the Longhorns. Her parents, Bobby and Allison, sat near the Texas group's gear and nutrition chest Saturday.

They flew in from Houston on Friday to watch Emily compete. But with the Longhorns racing again today, Emily was tied up with team meetings and curfew, so the Carters did some hiking and admired the autumn leaves -- something they don't get in Houston.

"We've never been to Chattanooga before," Allison said. "You get to see fall here."

"Fall exists here," Bobby said.

They're thinking a return trip is in the works.

"We're already looking forward to next year," Allison said. "This has been great."

Hooch directors think so, too.

"The venue's always good," said John Gallagher, merchandise director for Head of the Hooch. Gallagher was also an event director at one point, and he is a member of the Atlanta Rowing Club.

He said as of Saturday things were going "swimmingly."

And still growing.

Hooch organizers turned down about 300 boats this year because there wasn't enough time to fit them in, he said.

"We're at a point where we can't grow anymore because we've used all the daylight we can use," he said.

The race has already outgrown two venues in its 32-year history. It originated in Roswell, Ga., on the event's namesake river, the Chattahoochee. It was then hosted by Gainesville, Ga., where rowing took place in the 1996 Olympics.

In 2004 it came to Chattanooga. Now, Gallagher said, Hooch organizers are talking about expanding into three days of racing -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- rather than move again. Currently, the regatta only spans the first Saturday and Sunday of November.

Chattanooga has been a good home to the event, Gallagher said. The weather is perfect for rowing, and has been every year since the regatta came here.

Interstates 75 and 24 converge in Chattanooga, and Interstate 40 is only a two-hour drive away.

"We love it up here," he said.

Also, the Tennessee River is a good for rowing because it "twists and turns."

"Straight and monotonous is boring," said Gallagher.

But he thinks Chattanooga's personality is what makes the city most attractive to Hooch directors and participants.

"Honestly, I really believe it's the hospitality," he said. "It's the Southern hospitality that we emulate and the Southern hospitality that the area around Chattanooga emulates."

Over at Cold Stone, some rowers were getting water cooler fill-ups.

Free of charge, compliments of that hospitality.

"We definitely want to leave a good impression," Myers said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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