Penn Lightweight History
In 1917, Joseph Wright, the newly-appointed crew coach at the
A professional oarsman from Canada, Wright was convinced in his first year of collegiate coaching that it was wise to select heavy men for his boats, as they could produce more power from fewer strokes, had the necessary stamina for the four-mile races and allowed the boat to ride more easily because of the balance factor. Since the heavier men were being chose for these varsity seats, Wright organized a "lightweight crew," thereby giving the lighter men a chance to compete on a regular basis.
The 150-pound boats were an immediate success. From 1919 to 1928, Penn suffered just one loss. From its shining start, Penn continued to row with authority and, in the early 1950s, embarked upon yet another undefeated streak which would stretch 23 races.
In 1951, the Quakers capped off the year with their first win at the Thames Challenge Cup, a feat repeated the following year when Penn defeated Christ College of Cambridge by one-and-a-half quarter lengths. More remarkable was the fact that, in 1951, the University had discontinued lightweight rowing, but an enthusiastic group of 14 oarsmen persuaded the University to modify its decision. They then prevailed upon Al Lawn, captain of the 1950 heavyweight crew, to volunteer his services as coach. The crew first lost to Yale, then beat
In a practice trip the day before the regatta, the Penn shell was swamped and damaged. An MIT boatman worked through the night to repair the shell for the Penn crew, and Penn worked through the day to take the Joseph Wright Trophy and the Lightweight Championship. After winning its final American race against Cornell, Penn, with the help of Crawford C. Madeira, sent the crew to
Penn strung together another impressive streak of rowing 20 years later, winning 26 straight cup races from 1975-78.