Rowing, sometimes called crew, was America’s first professional sport. Even today, the single largest sporting event in America is a rowing race. It is no wonder, with Tennessee’s network of rivers and lakes, that crew is a popular pastime. Tennessee rowers of all ages, from teens to seniors, participate in recreational and competitive events in the state and nation.
According to popular legend, rowing came to Tennessee in 1875 with a small club of Chattanooga men. Though the club disbanded three years later, the men competed in the Saratoga, New York, races made famous by the beautiful paintings of Thomas Eakins. In 1971 rowing returned to Chattanooga with the Lookout Rowing Club. The first full chartered rowing club was the Pellissippi Rowing Club in Oak Ridge. The Knoxville Rowing Association (KRC) soon followed in 1974. The early founders of Tennessee rowing include James Ramsey, Carl Parlota, Rod Townsend Sr., and Greg Maynard, all of the KRC. Soon after the formation of the club, the first official regatta, or river race, was held in Knoxville.
The Head of the Tennessee Regatta is the second oldest river race in America and draws over fifteen hundred athletes from the southeast. In 1978 the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association (SIRA) permanently moved their collegiate regatta to Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge. High school and collegiate clubs sprang up in the 1980s, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga club in 1989. In 1995 the University of Tennessee at Knoxville women’s club became a varsity sport, marking the first SEC rowing team with NCAA status. Chattanooga brought the Women’s National Team training center to the city in 1994, and Oak Ridge hosted the trials of the Pan American Games in 1995. The Women’s National Team trained in Tennessee as they prepared for the Olympic Games in 2000.