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And so began the first race of the first six contestants of the first Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints at 8:00AM on a cold Saturday morning in January, 1986, in the gym of George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.
The ergs were the original model with bicycle wheels. There were approximately 30 ergs on the floor, brought by truck from the boat house. Volunteer timers stood by every machine and clocked the times by hand. There were no computers or jumbo screens, no software to follow the races. Referees and officials kept a close eye on the contestants. The warm-up room, a small room full of wrestling mats, contained two ergs. There was a full complement of competitor of categories: high school, college, masters, veterans, men and women, heavy and light. There were tee shirts, joyous winners, and winded losers. Someone even threw up after a race.
Competing high schools that year included T.C. Williams (Alexandria), Washington & Lee (Arlington), Yorktown (Arlington), Jeb Stuart (Fairfax County) and Fort Hunt (Fairfax County). College contestants came from the U.S. Naval Academy, George Washington University, Georgetown, University of Virginia, and Northeastern University (Boston). There were masters and veterans competitors, both men and women, to fill out the ranks. Legendary T.C. coach and oarsman Bob Spousta won his first men’s masters Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints race that day.
Booster president, Kitty Porterfield, and T.C. men’s coach, Mike Penn, conceived the idea of an erg race in Alexandria, because they were concerned about the lack of motivation and training among the athletes in the off-season. An erg race would encourage winter work-outs.
Erg Sprints was organized under the auspices of the T.C. Williams Crew Boosters, with the help of CRASH-B leaders and Dick and Pete Dreissigacker, designers of the Concept2 ergometer. Alexandria City Public Schools hosted the event which became one of the first satellite events of the CRASH-B Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championships soon after.
The first erg sprints was definitely a team effort, and the team has only grown: competitors, coaches, volunteers, and school employees—all pulling together for the young people of our region. Kitty and Mike were joined by a hard-working and diligent organizing team that included Pat Moore, who ran the floor; Marge Moore, who managed the registration process; Bill Fritz and Al Urquia, who headed up the referees and judges; Barbara Trees, who supervised the concessions; Bill Clayton, who handled the finances; Pat Smith, who oversaw all the technical needs in the gym; and Georgia Brown, an ACPS employee who became the facilities manager for the day. Dozens more adults managed the traffic in the gym, supervised the warm-up room, sold the tee shirts, and handled the clean-up.
[Prepared with the help of Kitty Porterfield, Mike Penn, Mike Porterfield, and Steve Weir.]