PHILADELPHIA - The Penn women's rowing team had a successful day on the water at the EAWRC Sprints back in mid-May. The entire weekend was only enhanced by the presence of arguably the program's most successful boat ever -- the 1980 varsity eight, to date the Quakers' only varsity eight to win an Eastern Sprints title.
Nearly 20 years since their last gathering, 1980 head coach Duane Hickling and seven of the women from that boat were on hand for Sprints weekend. The only two women who were not in attendance were captain Hope Barnes, who passed away in 1991, and Kathy Isgrig who is currently serving in Iraq with the Navy. (The group was able to skype with Isgrig during a cookout at head coach Mike Lane's house on Saturday night, before the races on Sunday.)
"It was amazing having the women from the 1980 crew back," said current head coach Mike Lane. "They were an amazing group of women who accomplished a great deal as oarswomen here. The accomplishment they had is a great inspiration to our current athletes, and something to strive for in years to come.
"The late 1970s and early 1980s were the most successful years for our program, and we have moved forward in trying to match that success recently," he continued, noting Penn's fifth-place finish in the varsity eight field two of the last three years (prior to 2008, the last time Penn finished fifth or better at Sprints was 1982). "The next goal is to surpass the success they had, as we continue to take steps forward in our program."
The 1980 varsity eight took a celebratory row during Sprints Sunday on the Cooper River, finishing up at the medals dock where they received Ivy League championship scarves as a gift. As a memorial, Barnes' seat was left empty and replaced by a bouquet of flowers. In Kathy's No. 3 seat was Gail Rickertson Helfer, who had been training for the national team on Boathouse Row in 1980 and filled in when needed.
Barnes' presence was a constant throughout the weekend.
"Hope Barnes was an amazing leader, rower and person," said Lane of the two-time Olympian (1980, 1984). "I did not know her personally, but the stories that were shared with me over the weekend were amazing. Having someone with her leadership ability was a key reason for the success of her boat. Having our most prestigious end-of-the-year award named after her is a fitting honor in celebrating her life."
Lane said the weekend-long celebration was a great inspiration for the current Penn team, and might even be emulated as Sprints moves forward in the future.
"Having a history of success is something that we continue to build," said Lane. "Having those women come back to share there experiences was great for our current athletes. Seeing the relationships that are built from this sport is so cool to see now, but just imagine our current athletes in 30 years!
"The Penn support, from parents and athletes, was amazing," he continued. "They loved having the women back to cheer us on. Doing the 30-year reunion was really cool, and many people in the league were very excited by it -- enough so that this may become an annual event celebrating past sprints champions at Sprints."