Nearly 900 rowers will descend on Noxontown Pond in Middletown this weekend for the 26th annual Howard M. Smith Diamond State Masters Regatta.

The event, which was founded in 1991 founded by John Schoonover and the late Howard M. Smith, has grown into one of the nation’s largest masters regattas.

“When we started, we had about 35 races and now it’s almost 100,” said Schoonover. “We used to only do one day, but now it’s grown to two days for about five years now.”

The event, sponsored by the Wilmington Rowing Center, attracts the best of the best from all around the country. Schoonover said they expect more participants this year coming from various spots.

“We’ve had over 500 boats from Boston, Tennessee, North Carolina and many from the Washington D.C. area,” said Schoonover. “We expect over 900 athletes, men and women, to be there.”

This weekend’s festivities are unique to the area, offering locals a chance to see a sport that doesn’t get a lot of attention on television. However, the view from Noxontown Pond gives spectators a great seat for all of the action in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Also, parking and entry into the event is free.

“Rowing has never been a big spectator sport,” said Schoonover. “Quite honestly, at most races, you can’t see the start of the race, but at Noxontown Pond it’s a very open setting so you can see the last half the race which is exciting since there’s a race starting nearly every six minutes. It’s free, parking is free, it’s a very comfortable place. It’s just a lovely way to spend an afternoon.” 

Schoonover said this weekend should mark the largest event in the race’s history, featuring competitors from ages 21 to over 80 years of age.

“I think we knew it would grow and it has grown,” said Schoonover. “It’s been a gentle growth through 26 years, but now it’s very big. This is a large national event for masters rowing. We’ll have over 65 different rowing organizations including Yale University joining us this weekend.”

Even with the expansion of the event, Schoonover urges everyone from the Middletown community to come out and enjoy as there’s plenty of space for spectators to watch the races.

“We have room for more and we’d love to have more of the Middletown and surrounding people to be aware of the event,” said Schoonover. “It’s unique for Delaware. It’s one of only two regattas held in Delaware along with the high school regatta at St. Andrew’s but this is a masters competition where all competitors have to be over the age of 21.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: 26th annual Howard M. Smith Diamond State Masters Regatta

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24

WHERE: Rodney Point at Noxontown Pond, Noxontown Pond Road, Middletown