What began as a modest effort in 1967 to field a competitive water skiing team has evolved over the decades into “Cirque du Soleil, plus 2,000 horsepower, on the Rock River,” Ski Broncs members will tell you.
Rockford’s popular water skiing team is marking its 50th year this summer, and while it celebrates a rich history, it also will host the Division I National Championship in August. Last weekend, the all-volunteer team attracted large crowds to the National Show Ski Association Central Regionals at Shorewood Park in Loves Park.
“It’s good for Rockford to have people coming in from outside,” said Steve Kling, president of the Ski Broncs board of directors. “They can see one of our best assets, which is the Rock River. And then we also have the chance to … promote our sport along the way.”
The Ski Broncs began as a handful of water skiing enthusiasts who split off from a group known as the Rockford Ski Club prior to 1967. Participation has ebbed and flowed over the years, but the organization now has 120 members, including more than 70 performers.
The team placed fifth at the regional competition, which included teams from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The biggest highlight of the weekend was the performance of the sibling doubles couple of Darren and Jada Seerup, who claimed the strap doubles title.
Ski Broncs Show Director Shane Theiss said the team’s chief goal is to have all of its performers participate at nationals.
“This year we wanted to reach that goal with regionals,” Theiss said, “but obviously with the river closing for a week and a half (due to heavy rain) and just not having the water time we’re accustomed to all summer long, it presented a few challenges. But I think for the next four weeks we’ll hit it hard, and everybody kind of knows their role and the goal and we’ll all work together to get there.”
Nick Povalitis, sports destination and sales manager for the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the regional tourney was projected to generate almost $59,000 in tourism spending. Nationals, he said, will have a bigger impact, with 1,600 hotel and motel room nights projected to generate $209,000 in spending.
“There’s widespread impact (from water skiing tournaments),” Povalitis said. “It’s been a source of entertainment for a long time. It brings in visitors, which drives visitors to our restaurants and all of that,…