Weekend on the river is big draw Regatta: The Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston is part carnival, part alumni weekend wrapped around an international sporting event.

October 20, 1997|By BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON -- Usually, the Johns Hopkins University women's crew team races "on a little river in the middle of the woods" before small crowds, Vanessa Stroh mused as she and her teammates sat alongside the Charles River waiting for their afternoon race.

Not yesterday. As they navigated the three-mile course in the 33rd Head of the Charles Regatta, Stroh and her team passed more than 100,000 spectators in an event that is part carnival and part alumni weekend wrapped around an international sporting event. About 5,600 rowers from 19 countries participated in the weekend regatta.

"Most of the time we race against other colleges," said Anne Tria, another Johns Hopkins rower. "This gives us a chance to race against other countries. It's just the quintessential crew event."

Since the first race in 1965, which featured just 12 racing shells, the Head of the Charles has become one of the premier rowing events in the world, drawing high schoolers and Olympians alike.

For scores of college alumni groups, it is also a time to drape a folding table in the school colors, haul out the banner and set out cider, doughnuts and sandwiches for graduates stopping by.

For corporate sponsors such as AT&T Corp. -- "the official telecommunications" company of the regatta -- it is a day to court the thousands of college students, offering them free lunch in exchange for a chance to pitch calling cards and credit cards.

Chris Garofoli and Joe Kosloski, both from Worcester, Mass., and juniors at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia, were seated on orange velvet love seats at the edge of the AT&T tent, eating fajitas. The free food was great, but they were there for the rowing, they said.

"This is the best race in the world," Kosloski said.

Garofoli, who has been to what many consider the grandest river race of all -- the Henley Regatta on the Thames in England -- agrees. "I've been to Henley," he said. "This is better than Henley."

Last year's race was washed out by torrential rains, so organizers expanded the regatta to a two-day event this year, scheduling three races Saturday and 17 yesterday.

The added day, along with yesterday's gray, chilly weather, cut the anticipated crowd in half, from the expected 300,000 to between 125,000 and 150,000, according to state police.

The only people at the Brandeis University alumni table were Abigail Duarte and Diane Goulston, whose daughters are sophomore members of the Waltham school's crew team. With their platter of donuts, basket of bagels and mound of apples barely touched, they would have freely given snacks to anyone who wandered by. "The little ones might be alumni some day," Duarte said.

Despite the T-shirt vendors and other diversions, the Head of the Charles is also one more stop on a parent's sports schedule.

Kathleen and Kenneth Lacasse sat by the river's edge with their 12-year-old son, Bryan, waiting for their oldest son, Michael, a member of the Cornell University crew team.

They had driven 3 1/2 hours from their home in New York with a plastic container filled with Michael's post-race treat: 10 dozen chocolate chip cookies made by Mom.

"This is his Henley," his mother said.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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