ZACHARY - For the first time in recent history, LSU water skiers competed Saturday against nearly 200 athletes from 22 schools in the National Collegiate Water Ski Association’s national finals at Bennett’s Water Ski School.
The LSU water ski program, which was not funded by any scholarships or sponsors, faded away several years ago but this year was revived by Jaime Wallace, 23, a mass communication major. Wearing a No. 7 LSU football jersey, she finished sixth among nearly 30 Division II competitors in the tricks event.
“It felt good - it was fun,” a smiling Wallace told her parents, Jim and Sumartha Wallace, along with a half-dozen teammates. She completed 19 tricks in 20 seconds gliding across Lake 2 at Bennett’s Water Ski School.
Wallace grew up water skiing in Columbia, and when she transferred to LSU from the University of Louisiana-Monroe last year, she discovered there was no water skiing team.
“I just put a little ad in the Reveille (campus newspaper) asking anyone who wants to get involved to contact me - and it just grew from there,” Wallace said. There are now 15 LSU students competing in slalom, tricks and jump events.
Teammate Stewart Browning, 20, a junior majoring in history at LSU, added, “We’re trying to get some more people involved and some alumni to help sponsor us.”
The three-day tournament was divided in half with teams from 12 Division I schools, which are large and scholarship-funded, and teams from 10 Division II schools, such as LSU, which are basically intramural programs funded by volunteers and the students themselves.
Over on Lake 1, the men from Division I schools were hitting a large jumping ramp at top speed, flying as far as they could and still complete their landings. Several jumps topped 160 feet provoking rousing cheers from the large audience. Dramatic wipeouts, which happened as often as completions, elicited rousing cheers as well.
This was the fourth time since 1987 that Bennett’s Ski School has hosted the nationals event, owner Jay Bennett said, and he just learned Friday night they’ll host it again next year.
“You would think Florida would be the center of collegiate water skiing but actually, UL-Monroe will be this year’s champions and last year’s champion was UL-Lafayette,” Bennett said. “The biggest change I’ve seen in collegiate water skiing since the last time we hosted it here in 2007 is the amount of support the kids are getting from their parents - it’s phenomenal. There are a thousand people here today.”
On the high ground between the lakes, dozens of pavilions sporting collegiate and company logos, provided shade for the athletes and vendors selling food, skis, T-shirts and swimsuits for men and women.
Music blared from boom-boxes while public-address announcer Tony Lightfoot declared each participant’s scores. He was also broadcasting the event on the Internet to more than 400 people from around the world watching, he said.
“This is an absolutely superb event and we’re actually seeing some records being broken,” Lightfoot said in his thick British accent. The computer viewers, he said, were mostly relatives of national finals competitors living in foreign countries whose kin attend college in the United States.
Erin Slater, 19, from the University of Cincinnati, said she was glad to be in Louisiana for the finals: “The water is so much warmer here than back in Ohio.”
Rich O’Donnell, drove down from Northbrook, Ill., to see his daughter, Erin, 19, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, compete. “This is a really great event,” he said. “The weather is great - not like in Chicago. Everybody is nice and the food is amazing.”
Results are posted at Bennett’s Water Ski School Web page: http://www.ncwsa.skibennetts. com.