By TONY WHITE
YOUNG Clarence Valley rowers stood tall at the weekend's NSW Rowing Championships at Penrith and in the process generated a maelstrom of interest and praise.
The outstanding team left onlookers in 'oar' with their stellar performance.
Northern Rivers rowers (including from Lismore) contested 21 events, qualified for 19 finals and medaled in 16, including both gold and silver in two events.
The current crop of rowers, with limited budgets and expertise in comparison to their metropolitan counterparts, ushered in a new golden era for the Clarence reminiscent of the halcyon days of last century when the area was revered as a breeding ground for rowing excellence.
The big question on everyone's lips was: 'Who are these kids?'
New South Wales Rowing Association president Stewart Derwin spoke in glowing terms after the team's elite performance.
"Many years ago the Clarence was renowned for success in sculling," Derwin told the Daily Examiner. "To see it on the weekend...wow.
"In one of the school kids' final, four of the eight finalists were from Grafton, incredible.
"What an effort from everyone. It was marvelous. It's been an outstanding performance.
"Everyone at the regatta was talking about it. It was a magnificent performance from the North Coast area.
"I can't talk more positively.
"People were saying 'look at that; where do they come from?'
"Everyone was talking about them. It augers well for the future of rowing in the area."
High praise indeed from a top ranking rowing official.
Derwin went on to divulge discussions have already taken place with a view to increased funding and coaching expertise being available to the Clarence area in the near future.
"NSW Rowing in co-operation with the NSW Institute of Sport intend to expand and increase the funding and programs available to regional areas," he said.
Local coach and Academy rowing co-ordinator Colin Lang said the team's performance was 'unbelievable'.
"You wouldn't dare to go to state championships expecting, and come home wondering if was all true," Lang said. "Kids rowed with skill and determination that was typified in the under-17 women's quad scul,l where the girls were 5th with 250m to go but surged through the field to win silver (by 0.37s) in a blanket finish.
"Some kids were climbing straight off the medal podium then rushing back into their boats and competing in the next race.
"One of the exciting things for North Coast rowing was the ability of our rowers to successfully compete at under-19 and even under-21 level, against rowers from elite athlete programs in Sydney and Canberra."
South Grafton High rowing coach, teacher Terry Vercoe, was proud of not only his own squad but the Clarence team's overall perfor- mance. "We took 16 kids and 14 med- aled," Vercoe said of the SGH squad. "It was way beyond our wildest expectations, one for the Clarence front. "The good thing is whether its Maclean, Grafton or South Graf- ton, the kids get on so well. "The kids are genuinely happy for each other, supportive, they all cheer. "That's a good healthy sports perspective for them." Individually and team-wise there were some outstanding achieve- ments, notably by Brenton Ford, Ashleigh Peppernell, Marty Hem- phill, Nicole and Belinda West and Steffanee Colgrave, who won gold as a cox and also medaled as a rower. The outstanding achievements were: n Champion Schoolboys Single Scull ? silver to Daniel Lang (SGH). n Champion Schoolboys Coxed Quad ? bronze to Daniel Lang, James Eather, Matthew Cameron, Andrew Cavanagh, Steffanee Col- grave [cox] (SGH). n Champion Schoolboys Double Scull ? bronze to Bill Bowling, Jarrad Perl (SGH). n Women's Under-21 Quad Scull ? bronze to Ashleigh Pep- pernell, Jess Sims, Melissa Bowl- ing, Rebecca Zaffino (SGH). n Champion Schoolgirls Coxed Quad Scull ? gold to Ashleigh Peppernell, Jess Sims, Rebecca Zaffino, Melissa Bowling, Steffa- nee Colgrave [cox] (SGH). n Champion Schoolgirls Double Scull ? gold to Nicole and Belin- da West (Lower Clarence Rowing Club). n Schoolgirls 2nd Coxed Quad Scull ? gold to Nicole Brown, Candice Brown, Jessica Perl, Lau- ren Nay, Steffanee Colgrave [cox] (SGH). n Under-16 Men's Quad Scull ? gold to Lewis Hemphill, Brenton Ford, Matthew Kempnich, Brennan McCann (Grafton Rowing and Grafton High School). n Under-16 Men's Single Scull ? gold to Brenton Ford (Grafton RC), silver to Lewis Hemphill (Grafton RC). n Under 16-Women's Quad Scull ? gold to Ashleigh Pepper- nell, Steffanee Colgrave, Rachael See, Saxon Ramon (SGH/Lower Clarence). n Under-16 Women's Single Scull - bronze to Ashleigh Pep- pernell (SGH). n Under-17 Men's Quad Scull ? bronze to Adam Harrison, Rowan Hislop, Matthew Kempnich, Bren- nan McCann (Lismore/Lower Clar- ence/Grafton). n Under-17 Women's Quad Scull ? silver to Ashleigh Pepper- nell, Nicole West, Rachael See, Ashleigh Adams (SGH/Lower Clar- ence/Pt Macquarie). n Under-17 Women's Single Scull ? bronze to Nicole West (Lower Clarence). n Under-19 Men's Quad Scull ? bronze to Marty Hemphill, Daniel Lang, Kane Ramon, Adam Harri- son (Grafton/SGH/Lower Clarence, Lismore). Many of the Clarence Valley representatives are scheduled to compete again at this weekend's Rowing Australia Championships to be held at Penrith.