The Celebration of Over a Century of Yale Lightweight Crew – Part I

The members of Anderson Cooper’s 1989 Y150 Jope Cup winning Varsity included Cooper ’89 (third from left), FBI Director Chris Wray ’89 (fifth from right) and captain and former Yale Crew Association President Pat Perry ’89 (far right).

16 March 2023

By Thomas E Weil

The gathering on January 28th in New Haven of 450 Yale lightweight crew athletes, alumni, friends and family who had come together to celebrate a century or so of Y150 rowing, most likely constituted the largest assembly of lightweight oarsmen ever for a non-rowing event. It may well have set the bar for future occasions of the kind.

Since the first U.S. collegiate lightweight contest was scheduled to have taken place between Yale and Penn in 1917, the anniversary was, by some measures, six years overdue, and, although Y150 competition actually began in 1920, first the pandemic, then event space reservation issues, pushed the centenary celebration date back to this January, but that extra time also allowed for the extensive planning that made it an evening to remember.

Yale President Peter Salovey (L) with the National Rowing Foundation’s Hall of Famer Dick Ewing ’74 (R).

Conceived by former national team member and Y150 alumni leader Mike Hard ’84 at the head of a Y150 organizing committee supported by the Yale Conferences and Events (YC&E) department, a number of elements contributed to the success of the evening. At the top of the order was the effort to notify and include as many alumni as possible, which resulted in the attendance of over 350 former oarsmen, dating back to the 1960s, to join with 45 current Y150s and their coaching staff, as well as several members of the Yale administration, including President Peter Salovey and Athletic Director Vicky Chun.

Organizer Mike Hard ‘84 mingling with the 400 guests.

Having solicited alumni for photographs depicting Y150 history, the committee received nearly 1,000 images dating from the 1920s to last year’s Henley trip (which photos have been saved on a Y150 website). Selected photos were printed on large standing banners – organized by decades and placed throughout the reception area. Adding to the decorative ambiance was a display of the trophies won by the 2022 varsity – which went undefeated until the IRA – and the squad (including the Vogel and Jope Cups). Finally, overhead screens showed Y150 still and video projections on a loop which ran throughout the evening.

One of several banner screens depicting photographs of the ten decades of Y150 history.

A one-hour cocktail reception was followed by a sumptuous dinner, after which a substantial number of alumni adjourned to the traditional venue of Mory’s for celebrations late into the evening.

Dave Vogel ’71, former national team member, Yale lightweight and heavyweight coach and President of USRowing, acting as emcee.

The dinner included addresses by event organizer Mike Hard and AD Vicky Chun, with Dave Vogel ’71 in the role of emcee. Former Y150 coxswain Anderson Cooper ’89 captivated the audience with comments that were heart-felt and poignant, concluding with words that perfectly summarized the evening – “We remember.” Y150 coach Andy Card delivered his remarks with trademark humor, Vogel wrapped up the reminiscences with half a century of insightful perspective, and Ashley Wu ’17 announced the dedication of a new Y150 Mory’s drinking cup.

Y150 head coach and prime time speaker Andy Card (on the right) at another celebration.

Shortly after the dinner began, a striking 150-page Y150 softcover book titled Yale Lightweight Crew 1920/2020 – Celebrating 100 Years of Excellence, which includes several alumni essays, along with a Y150 history, was distributed to everyone in attendance (an HTBS article published tomorrow will provide more detail regarding the book and its purpose, and the forthcoming publication of a second edition). Whether more attention was then paid to the speakers or to the book, as recipients thumbed through it to look for their place in Y150 history, may never be known …

And who cares? Certainly those in attendance did; a number described it as one of the most memorable evenings of their life. But, beyond the opportunity to renew old friendships and hear some terrific speeches, the occasion is worth remarking on for another reason. The recognition of an institutional anniversary provides an opportunity not only to celebrate history, but to focus upon and memorialize it. The undergraduate athletes in attendance (who will themselves provide the “old guard” for the 2070 celebration of the 150th anniversary of Y150 crew) were able to witness the sharing of over sixty years of camaraderie amidst the revelry. Even more importantly, the event inspired and motivated a review of a century of Y150 history, and led to the publication of the book that accompanied the event; absent the celebration, the compilation of that history may well have never been undertaken.

So, herewith a shout out to those in the rowing community who have the opportunity to celebrate a significant program anniversary (and rowing historians take note): beyond the enjoyment that can be experienced and the program funding support that can be generated from a very successful event, the excitement shared by generations of participants can be effectively taken advantage of to make a significant step forward in gathering and recording an institutional history that may otherwise escape capture. At a time when lightweight rowing is under existential pressure from several directions, the publication of more lightweight histories that demonstrate the value of the sport and the breadth of support for its continuation cannot but contribute to the preservation of the cause. See tomorrow’s posting … and carpe diem!

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