Belgian water ski team visits town again

By Frank Schier 
Editor & Publisher 

Ready for some good news from Europe and the spirit of America right here on our own Rock River?

The Belgian Water Ski Team have visited the Ski Broncs in 2014 and again this year to utilize our team’s boats, equipment and facilities at Shorewood Park to prepare for the world tournament.

“The Ski Broncs are great and have welcomed us with open arms,” exclaimed Lieven Hardy, the Belgian team’s show director. His wife, Sabine, agreed, adding, “We only have to ask and we get it. We are so grateful to be here.”

The World Water Ski Show Tournament is this weekend, Sept. 9-11, at South Wood County Park, Red Sands Beach area of Lake Wazeecha in Wisconsin Rapids,Wisc.

This is the third world tournament the Belgian team has entered, with considerable challenges each time.

Sabine pointed out, “The Ski Broncs are a great help with finances, too. We don’t have the funds to rent boats and fuel them to practice. We just don’t have the equipment in Belgium to do this.”

Lieven said all 37 team members are from the Flemish, not French, part of Belgium, and they can only practice on parts of their full competition show because of the small lakes available to them back home.

“When we come here, we can do all of it,” he said.

They have a very strong work ethic, practicing all of Labor Day from early morning to almost dusk under very windy conditions with a high amount of holiday boat traffic, making the waters of the Rock River match the stream’s name.

Speaking of his team that ranges from 12-year-old skiers to 56-year-old boat drivers, Lieven was wistful but determined when asked how they placed in the last three world tournaments.

“Last place,” he said. “The first year we go, we learned incrementally. We find out how to get points; what we can and can’t do. Each year we have changed little things. Our people are getting better after two times. We have better skiers that have developed over four years. The younger (team members) have become older and better.”

One of the younger woman team members, Pia Sautter, said she loves “everything” about water skiing: “That you are together with the team and everybody loves skiing.”

The theme for this year is a circus with appropriate costumes, and the theme last year was “Belgium Rocks”. Besides the ladies and gents skiing, each team has boat drivers, show directors, coordinators, sound techs and announcers. Along with these elements, points are awarded for individual and team acts and spirit.

Competing against teams from the U.S., Canada, Australia and China is a serious matter for Lieven. “We didn’t see much of Rockford. We were skiing all the time,” he said. “I liked it, (but) it’s so hard to visit the city because you work hard all day and at night you’re in bed.”

But everyone needs to eat, and the Anderson family (Pickle, Sandy, Whitey and Jackie) hosted the team in the adjoining, spacious yards of their homes on the river. The all-American fare of nachos, sloppy joes, hamburgers, brats, hot dogs, salad, chips, brownies and cookies was provided by the Ski Broncs concessions for the entire team, plus 20 guests.

The team spirit and friendliness was very apparent, especially when it came to cheers for the group photos and singing along with the entertainment provided by “The Two Of Us,” Lorraine and Doug Janicke. The Belgians reacted to the duo’s playing of the Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun, by requesting the song Let It Be, which they sang along to enthusiastically.

“The Beatles are the international language,” commented Sandy Anderson.

Tom McKiski, a long-time Ski Broncs supporter and fundraiser, said, “These Belgian folks are so nice and hard working. They really have a challenge making it all work financially. I can’t imagine what just their plane fare cost. It would be great the next time they are here if a local restaurant would donate a fine dinner for them, and we could get local dignitaries to welcome them. There’s a lot to see in Rockford we are proud of.”

The Rock River Times wishes Belgium and Team U.S.A. the best of luck in Wisconsin and look forward to their next visit.

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