The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio is not as idyllic a spot for rowing as, say, the Charles River in Boston, which draws crowds of nearly 300,000 spectators each October for the Head of The Charles Regatta. Those who do row on the Cuyahoga claim they’re generally met with shocked reactions from people who remember the river as it was 50 years ago: “They say ‘you row on the Cuyahoga, that river that burns?!’”

But the Cleveland Rowing Foundation is trying to change this stigma, and in September of 2012 the Cuyahoga River will host the inaugural USRowing Masters Head Race National Championship. Karen Schaefer reports from Cleveland this week for Only A Game.

Every September since 1996, the Cleveland Rowing Foundation hosts a major regatta, the Head of the Cuyahoga, in which high schoolers, college students, and adults from around the country compete in both sweep and sculling events. Theresa Gang, executive director of the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, believes that bringing the new Masters Head Race National Championship to Cleveland will advance the city’s desire to expand its role in the sport.

“I think it’s going to be tremendous to have them come here and host in Cleveland,” Gang says. “It really puts our name on the map.”

Local supporters also hope that the national championship will boost the city’s economy by attracting more visitors to the Cuyahoga.

“The river has been… [a] wonderful resource that we have that many cities around the globe would lust after,” says Brad Whitehead, President of Cleveland’s Fund For Our Economic Future. “And I think we’re starting to rediscover it and see that it can be a heart of recreation in the community and a place where things are going on.”

Approximately 3,000 national competitors and fans are expected at next year’s race. After visiting three other cities, the event will return to Cleveland in 2016, at which point the Cuyahoga’s reputation as “the burning river” will — hopefully — be put to rest.