Penn Heavyweight History
The long and distinguished history of the heavyweight rowing program at the University of Pennsylvania began in 1854 with the formation of the University Barge Club. Purely a university club at its inception, many individual classes selected crews and raced along the Schuylkill River. For more that 20 years, no movement was made to organize a club to represent Pennsylvania until October 1872. At that time, members of the classes of 1875-77 founded the “College Boat Club of the University of Pennsylvania”.
The first important series of intercollegiate rowing races for the young Penn crew were those with Princeton and Columbia for the Childs Cup, organized by the owner of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, George Childs. The Quakers captured the inaugural race on June 24, 1879, defeating several first-class crews on the Schuylkill River.
The first Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Regatta was held in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1895. It was not until three years later that Penn embarked on a winning streak of Intercollegiate Regatta championships that would bring them international acclaim by 1901.
Based upon the overwhelming success of the previous years, Penn was invited to compete for the Grand Challenge Cup and world honors at the 1901 Henley Royal Regatta in London, England. While Penn failed to “lift the cup, the effort of the oarsmen was the most successful of any American crew at that time.”
The Penn crew continued to represent the University and bring honor to the Red and Blue on a regular basis. Strong staff and student-body support helped Penn bring home the racing jerseys of defeated intercollegiate boats throughout the years.
The Quakers enjoyed one of their most impressive seasons in 1955, winning each of the challenge cups and defeating Wisconsin and Rutgers in dual meet competition for a 6-0 record. The Quakers were first across the finish line at the Eastern Sprints and rowed second to Cornell at the IRA Regatta on Lake Onondaga in 15:52.9.
Following its successful spring, the Penn crew crossed the Atlantic for the second of its seven Henley Challenge Cup appearances. On June 30, 1955, Penn completed its sweep for the Grand Challenge Cup with wins over the London Rowing Club, Thames Rowing Club and Vancouver Eight.
Despite losing at the next two Henleys, the Quakers’ reputation as a rowing power did not tarnish. One need only remember back to 1968 to see how dominant Penn had become within the circles of collegiate crew.
Carrying a 6-1 record and first-place finishes at the American Henley and IRA Regatta, the varsity eight earned the right to participate in the Olympic Trials in California for a berth to the Olympic Games in Mexico City that summer. Penn was ousted by five hundredth of one second (four inches) by Harvard and did not compete in Mexico City.
Despite that loss, Penn crew has maintained and strengthened its status among the sport's elite teams. In 1986, the Quakers enjoyed their best campaign in 16 years. They complied an 8-1 record, won the Eastern Sprints and finished second at IRAs. Penn placed third at the Cincinnati National Championships and second at the Amsterdam International Regatta. The Quakers capped off the season at Henley, where they beat a French team in the semifinal before narrowly losing to the Great Britain national team in the final.
In 1991, the Quakers undefeated second varsity capped a brilliant season by becoming the only American boat to win at Henley. Penn’s first varsity boat, which won the Eastern Sprints and U.S. National Championship in early June of 1991, will long be remembered for edging out Northeastern in the final seconds of the championship race.
Penn has won three Eastern Sprint titles in recent years. In 1996, Penn’s first varsity again claimed first-place honors at he Eastern Sprint Championships and went on to Henley to compete in the Grand Challenge Cup. In 1997, the heavyweight freshman boat took EARC Sprint honors and finished its Henley run in the semifinal.
Another dramatic finish occurred at the 1998 Sprints when the Penn varsity eight defeated Harvard by four-tenths of a second in a thrilling race that edged Princeton out of a Sprint sweep. That crew also went on to Henley where it lost in the semifinal of the Ladies Plate.