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Aqua Jays prepare for nationals

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
August 7, 2008
— The Rock Aqua Jays have been flooded with challenges this season.

The team has skied only one complete show, which was at the Wisconsin State Water Ski Show tournament. Their next full show will be Sunday, when they compete in the 2008 Division I National Show Ski Championship Tournament in Wisconsin Rapids.


“All we can do is prepare the best we can. Hopefully we can overcome some of our challenges,’’ said Gerry Luiting, show director.


Among those challenges have been floods, the economy, club finances, finding practice sites and communication.


The Rock River has flooded three times since fall 2007, and the Aqua Jays have had access to the river for only 12 days—Memorial Day through June 8.


“It really hampers us in a number of ways,” Luiting said.


For example, last year after nationals would have been when they taught youth in the organization tricks for its next ski show season and when veterans would have worked on new wrinkles.


“So we lost the opportunity to help those people develop,” Luiting said.


Without being able to get on the water to ski, the club has lost more than a dozen experienced skiers and probably another 15 members, resulting in a loss of more than $6,000 in membership dues.


“Losing personnel is a hard thing to do and even more frustrating when we have little or no control over it because of the weather,” Luiting said.


Without shows at Traxler Park, the club has gone without the income from donations collected at half time and from sales at the concessions stand and boutique shop.


“We’re looking basically at a total income loss,” Luiting said.


The club also couldn’t host two tournaments this year that would have generated revenue from team entry fees and vendor fees plus sales at the concession’s stand and boutique.


“Losing the Mercury (Open) is one thing, but losing nationals is another whole world. That’s a substantial economic loss especially when it is part of the budget process for the season,” Luiting said.


The cost of gas has added to the team’s financial troubles.


“We’ve gone from as far west to Yellowstone Lake, to as far east to Little Muskego Lake and as far north to Castle Rock and Wisconsin Rapids and everywhere in between,” Luiting said.


To haul the team and pull the boat fleet—four barges, two safety boats, an equipment trailer and five towboats—it costs about $3,000 to get to water two hours away.


But club members aren’t willing to get washed ashore.


The Aqua Jays are one of only two teams to compete at every state tournament—the longest running water ski show tournament in the world—over nearly three decades. And the Aqua Jays are the only team to have competed in every national tournament.


The other reason for not giving up is to retain the critical corporate sponsorship of Mercury Marine and Malibu Boats, Luiting said.


Without home practices, weekly meetings and shows, communication was difficult. But members got creative by using e-mail, phone text messaging and Web sites. Everybody received an electronic copy of the club’s show script and maps of the tournament show site.


“We had to invent new things of communication on the fly,” Luiting said.


Club members also walked through performances at their warehouse. On the road, they created a ski area on land by coloring in dock and jump locations.


“It seems goofy and dumb but provides mental imagery of where the equipment and costumes have to be. We are trying to do anything we can to make it seem like the real thing,” Luiting said.


“We have the Rock Aqua Jays name on the line and want to keep up the tradition of having a quality organization with successful shows and tournament placement.’’


IF YOU GO

Who: Fourteen water ski show teams from throughout the United States.


What: 2008 Division I National Show Ski Championship Tournament


When: Friday through Sunday, Aug. 8-10


Where: Lake Wazeecha, South Wood County Park, Wisconsin Rapids. The Rock Aqua Jays will ski third and at around 10:30 a.m. Sunday.


On the Web: The tournament will be Webcast for the first time. USA Water Ski, the largest water ski federation in the world, will work with WebCast-TV as the Webcast partner for the 34th annual event. The one-hour presentation of all 14 teams will be Webcast live at no cost. Highlight videos from the top teams each day also will be replayed in the evenings to allow for prime-time viewing and greater exposure. The link is www.usawaterski.org.

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