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John Hunter Regatta returns to Lake Lanier this weekend
Event will feature nearly 1,600 rowers between college and youth teams
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Vanderbilt's Justin Stanwick, Michael Levin, Andrew Kress and Connor Donahue make their way down the course during the 29th annual John Hunter Regatta at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue and Rowing Center on Saturday, March 28, 2015. - photo by Erin O. Smith

John Hunter Regatta
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday, 8:45 a.m. Sunday
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Rowing Center in Gainesville
Admission is free, but parking is $10 per vehicle

Just one month after each John Hunter Regatta, those in charge of the yearly event at the Lake Lanier Olympic Rowing Center meet to review how it went.

It’s a sort of “post-mortem,” as event director Jeff Kish calls it, that helps them improve future installments of the regatta for competitors and spectators alike. But Kish and his colleagues also use that meeting to begin coordinating with clubs and colleges to set dates for next year’s event.

All that planning in advance is done for a two-day regatta that brings thousands of people from across the country to Gainesville, where it’s about to return once again.

The 31st annual John Hunter Regatta — known as “The Hunter” to those in the rowing community — will be held today and Sunday at the Lake Lanier Olympic Rowing Center. Kish said nearly 1,600 rowers will compete in the event, which has drawn crowds of more than 3,000 for past editions.

“They come because they know the competition is going to be pretty good, and it’s on the Olympic venue,” Kish said. “It’s a known entity on a beautiful course. It’s a venue that has a historical significance.”

A site of the 1996 Summer Games will welcome both college and youth teams, which began competing on different days last year to accommodate the rapidly expanding field.

The college races will start at 8:30 a.m. today, while the youth competition is set for 8:45 a.m. Sunday. Kish said races are scheduled to begin every eight minutes, and there will be an hour-long lunch break each day around noon serving as an intermission in the action.

Both competitions are expected to last until mid-afternoon.

About 500 volunteers will help the event run smoothly, with some in charge of vital components like concessions and parking. Known as “Friends of the Hunter,” the group is comprised of mostly people who had children participate in the Lake Lanier Rowing Club or the St. Andrew Rowing Club in Roswell.

“They’re really the heart and soul of this whole event,” said Kish, who’s in his second year as director of the regatta. “They’re what make this thing run. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Thirty-three college teams will face off on the 2000-meter course, including schools in the southeast like Georgia Tech, Clemson, Auburn and Alabama. But the midwest will also be well represented by Northwestern, Michigan, Illinois and DePaul, some of which have been practicing on Lake Lanier throughout this week during their spring breaks.

Kish said the John Hunter Regatta will be beneficial for teams competing at the American College Rowing Association Championships, which are also at Lake Lanier, because they can scout opponents and make adjustments to their training regimens.

Only a handful of participating youth clubs will be from the Atlanta area. Others competitors hail from New Orleans, Charlotte, Orlando and other cities in Alabama and South Carolina.

Both the college and youth squads will use eight-man and four-man boats, though the latter field will feature 2-man and 1-man races for the first time in the regatta’s history. That has resulted in a huge uptick in the number of entries, jumping from 327 last year to 448 this weekend.

“We have the availability of the space, and the event has been well-received,” Kish said. “We’ve had a significant increase in the size of the regatta.”

The event is named after John Hunter, who founded the St. Andrew Rowing Club and was a major benefactor to Georgia Tech’s rowing program. Hunter died in 1999.

After a brief stay in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the regatta was moved back to Lake Lanier about five years ago, Kish said. That’s a good thing, considering all the planning necessary to accommodate the droves of people expected to attend the event.

“There aren’t many places that can handle this volume of people and boats,” Kish said.

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