Devil's Lake hosts 2019 Big Ten Rowing Championships

BARABOO, Wis. (WMTV) -- The 2019 Big Ten Rowing Championships are making their way to the waters of Wisconsin at Devil's Lake, bringing the race closer to home for the UW-Madison women's rowing team. This is the first time since 2010 the event has been held outside of Indianapolis.

Bebe Bryans, head women's rowing coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said when they first started the Big Ten Championships, each school hosted. Bryans said they then decided on a neutral site with six or seven lanes after cycling through the schools.

"We went to Indianapolis and we've been there for a while, but the conditions at Indy aren't always great," said Bryans. "And so we've been working on bringing Devil's Lake up to speed as far as the infrastructure of the lake goes. The water's always been great but being able to host a championship regatta requires a lot of work. So we finally got all the coaches on board to give it a shot, and we're really excited to make this happen."

Bryans said Devil's Lake is an ideal site because it has "2,000 meters in a straight shot," as well as space for a warm up area and the potential for eight lanes.

Hosting the championships at the state park has been years in the making, and the championships will not be the first races held at the park, said Steve Schmelzer, Devil's Lake State Park superintendent.

"The park has a unique history of regattas in the late 1800s, and early 1900s, so it's like bringing back some of that history," he said. "So we started having those regattas in 2012 I believe was the first one. Then probably about three years ago discussions started."

Schmelzer said the opportunity to host the championships was not only a positive for the rowing program, but also for the the state park and the Baraboo area.

"They said hey, are you guys interested in possibly hosting a championship race," Schmelzer said. "And we said yeah, we're all in, it'd be a great opportunity both to showcase UW and their whole crew and teams, but also the Wisconsin state parks."

Bryans and Schmelzer both said the park also makes a great venue for the race because of the high bluffs, which not only protect the lake from wind, but provide a good vantage point for watching.

"That's always been the selling point of Devil's Lake, is that it can handle a lot of wind," Bryans said. "And that's been a challenge with the other venues that we've been to, that we've had to do a lot of schedule changing, we've had to do a lot of shifting to accommodate the conditions that we have on race day."

Schmelzer said they're expecting about 1,000 people for the race. He said during a peak summer weekend, they can get about triple or quadruple that, and said the park is prepared.

Schmelzer said they've been working with events staff from UW athletics, as well as the Big Ten Network for live streaming and setting up a jumbo tron and other electronics. He also said they will be bringing in additional restroom facilities and have the parking planned.

"It brings probably some new people into the park that maybe never have been to Devil's Lake or never have been to a Wisconsin state park, so it's a great opportunity for us to showcase the parks and showcase Devil's Lake," he said.

Bryans said this championship is an all around positive for the women's team, who have often had scheduling conflicts between final exams or even graduation during the Big Ten Rowing Championships.

"Not only are we hosting the Big Ten Championships, our seniors get to graduate, and we're not racing on the last day of finals," Bryans said. "So it's a win, win, win, and hopefully we'll be able to do some winning up there as well."

The race will be held at Devil's Lake State Park on Sunday, May 19 beginning at 9 a.m.