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

The cover of Yale Lightweight Crew 1920/2020 – Celebrating 100 Years of Excellence.

17 March 2023

By Thomas E Weil

As noted in yesterday’s Part I of this posting, the January 28th celebration of the Y150 centennial included the compilation and publication of a 150-page softcover volume – Yale Lightweight Crew 1920/2020 – Celebrating 100 Years of Excellence – that may break new ground in the small world of rowing history (and the even smaller world of lightweight rowing history).

The decision to create the celebration book was made by the Y150 centennial event organizing committee formed by Y150 alumnus leader Mike Hard ‘84. Illustrations included art by alumni Kent Seki ‘93 and Tom Toro ’04, a New Yorker artist, who contributed two rowing-related cartoons, one of which provided the basis for a provide-the-caption contest, and a great many photographs drawn from the nearly 1,000 images contributed by Y150 alumni.   

The principal contents included an introduction by Hard, and three essays: “Walking On” by Pulitzer Prize winner Jake Halpern ’97, “The Timeless Traditions of Yale Lightweight Rowing” by national team member Matt Broder ’81 and “Reflections for Y150” by national champion and Antarctic adventurer Andrew Towne ’05.

Table of Contents (click on the image to enlarge).

The bulk of the book consisted of three sections, compiled and written by this author and devoted to Y150 history: “A Brief History of Yale Lightweight Crew” (32 pages), “A Century or So of Harvard-Yale-Princeton Race Results and Boatings” (63 pages on those boatings and Sprints and IRA results) and “Yale Lightweights Abroad” (12 pages on Y150s in Henley Royal Regatta). Additional material included tables of Y150 captains and coaches and Y150 national team members.

The publication falls short of being a traditional boat club history in many ways. It focuses on the boatings for only one regatta – the Harvard-Yale-Princeton race – which, over the last century, as the final regular season contest for three of the most successful U.S. collegiate lightweight crew programs, has very often been predictive of the outcomes of the championship contests that follow. The HYP lineups do not always reflect the boatings that have gone on to win league or national championships, but no league or national championship can boast of the history of the HYP regatta, which has flourished for over a century, and provides the single best data point by which to portray the story of each of the participating programs.

The history also does not address regular season records, or speak to the reasons for coaching changes, or the adoptions of different rowing styles or training protocols, or the switch to different equipment, or the impact of winter and spring break training trips, or the evolving dynamics of internal racing and seat changes that typically accompany the journey that points to the season-ending races. It barely touches upon the critical story of the status of the sport within the athletic department umbrella, or the strength of alumni support and funding that has been central to, not simply the survival, but also the flourishing, of the program. There are not pictures of every boating, and, indeed, most of the images in the publication lack captions that would enable most readers to identify them.

And, in particular, there are few anecdotes and quotes from the 1,000 plus Y150 alumni who make up the flesh and blood of that century of rowing and provide much of the life and entertainment that one may seek, but often fail to find, in a boat club history.

Thus, lacking so many of the elements that could be, and often are, addressed in a typical club rowing history, what, if anything, does this compilation contribute that makes it different? Its principal purpose is what may be its most significant feature. It was never intended to be a traditional account; instead, its central goal was to honor as many Y150 athletes from the past century who could be identified as possible.

One option would have been to create a global roster, or to publish annual team rosters, which would presumably have named all those who warranted such recognition, but that would have left two challenges – first, to find such rosters, which might at the end of the day have to have been compiled from boatings anyway, and second, such dry listings would have given none of the taste of program history that would lend some color to the effort. The better approach was to place the athletes in context for each year that they rowed by finding their boat and seat, if any, in the HYP regatta for such year. That tack being taken, the goal was to then also record the order and times of finish of each boat in every race, as well as how each boat then did, prior to WWII, in the American Henley, and, following WWII, in the Sprints and in the IRA. 

A typical page of boatings.

And that meant every boat. Some boat club histories just track the first varsity boat. Some also include brief mentions of the second varsity and the freshman boats. I do not believe that I have ever seen one that attempts to honor, over the course of a century, every boat that raced in a regatta, which might include third, fourth and fifth varsities, and second and third freshman boats. And, after ascertaining the boat and the seat, the entry for every athlete was patterned after the traditional practice in days of yore of citing some combination of the name, the class year, the weight, the height, the high school, the home town and the age.

How did that go? Very slowly and painfully. Boatings records in the Yale athletic department archives are woefully lacking in coverage, but they can be particularly silent for those lower boats, and, in the absence of a boating or result, the question arises as to whether there was a race or not, especially when roster information indicates that there were enough athletes to make up more boats than those for which race results were provided.

So, the search included campus newspaper reports, material from the Harvard and Princeton sports archives, material from Harvard and Princeton sports books, newspaper articles in The New York Times and other papers, and information from my own archives, including race programs. Although the passage of time can erase great swaths of memory, many Y150 alumni were helpful in reconstructing some boatings, and some orders of finish. Where rosters were available, if there were names that did not appear in the HYP boatings for that year, they were listed in sections that reflected their presence on the squad.

The challenges were not limited to finding names and times; often, instead of finding no information, there was too much … the boating listed in a race program might differ from the lineup printed in a newspaper, and newspaper reports of times might differ from those recorded by the athletic department or scribbled into a program by a spectator at the race. In these instances, after some reflection, rather than noting all of the inconsistent alternatives in the book, the preferred path was to pick the one that seemed most likely, and let the matter rest.

How close does the book come to satisfying the goal of including everyone who went out for Yale lightweight crew over the course of a century? It can be difficult to grasp the scope of what one doesn’t know, but, while I am reasonably confident that most of the information presented is fairly accurate, I am also relatively certain that a good many names are missing from the present volume. As is often the case, while the deadline for the design, review and printing process required to make the book available for distribution closed the door on further inquiry at this time, additional research will provide a more complete picture, and, having advanced to this stage in the documentation of Y150 history, there is interest in building upon what has been done to create, in due course, a more comprehensive record of Y150 history (for which the current Harvard lightweight crew history website provides an inspiring example …)

Some photographs focus on one crew, in this case the 1957 Y150 Varsity…
…and others are an uncaptioned goulash of sights and memories.

The crafting of a work of this sort begins with a purpose and the accumulation of contents and data, but a project of this nature then warrants oversight and teamwork. In his role as project manager, Mike Hard ’84 coordinated the contribution by several individuals of their elements of the volume, and then served as the editor of last resort as the book went to press. The design and layout process contributes significantly to the appearance and ease of use of the contents of such a compilation, and, together with adding another pair of editorial and proofreading eyes, the disparate contents, including several textual chapters, numerous illustrations, and the dry elements of several hundred boatings, were all brought to life by the skill of Gregg Chase of Yale Printing and Publishing, where the book took shape and went to press.

It was recognized from the beginning that the dinner volume contained gaps and errors; recipients were urged to contact the author with corrections, and it was anticipated that, at some point, a revised volume might be issued. The speech given by Anderson Cooper attracted such an overwhelming response, however, that it was decided to move to a second edition that would include the text of his comments and incorporate corrections that were solicited and received in the weeks following the dinner. A request for orders was sent to the Y150 community, and, orders in hand, that next edition is about to go to press at Yale Printing and Publishing.

There will be a limited number of copies printed in excess of the number for which orders have already been received. These may be purchased for $76 plus a shipping / handling charge. If interested in acquiring one of these books, please contact me at for a link which will facilitate ordering from the distributor.

(All photos shown herein were taken from Yale Lightweight Crew 1920/2020 – Celebrating 100 Years of Excellence and are used with permission.)

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