For the Cornell rowing program, last weekend might as well have been the Homecoming that wasn’t.
Fresh off the dedication of its new $8-plus million boathouse in June, the team was forced to relocate its annual fall Schwartz Cup races to Taughannock Falls State Park due to an outbreak of hydrilla in the Cayuga Lake Inlet.
According to men’s heavyweight rowing head coach Todd Kennett ’91, the highly invasive plant species “can be a real detriment to any activity in the water because it literally clogs the waterway.”
Kennett went on to say that although the sheriff has not officially shut the inlet down, the city has asked everyone to help curb the spread of the weed by staying off the water.
“They’re really concerned that the whole inlet could be jeopardized in a matter of only a couple years,” he said, adding that this is the only place in the entire Great Lakes system where hydrilla has been found so far.
The University, along with Cornell Athletics and the crew teams, has complied with the city’s request, electing to move last Saturday’s intra-squad races to Taughannock, 12 miles from campus.
“Is it disappointing? Yeah,” Kennett said, speaking to the fact that his team will have to wait to fully utilize the new and improved Cornell Rowing Center. “But you go to certain races and it’s not a perfect day out or somebody gets sick — it’s never perfect, so if you think that you always have to perform under perfection, you’re going to be in trouble. You have to go with it as it comes.”
Indeed, even the forced relocation and overcast skies were not enough to dampen the camaraderie and competitive spirit that has come to embody the Schwartz Cup. As per tradition, the boats were assigned by class year, meaning that bragging rights were on the line in addition to pewter Schwartz Cups gifted to the winning crews.
The 5,100-meter course — designed to keep the boats in the lee of the wind — required the crews to begin from a dead start, race 1700 meters, turn 180 degrees at the Taughannock beach, race back to the starting line, turn 180 degrees again and finally race to the finish line at the beach.
The senior class swept the day’s races in all three categories — men’s lightweight, women’s and men’s heavyweight — with the Class of 2012 heavyweights besting their junior counterparts by less than a second after the latter incurred a three-second buoy violation on a turn.
The juniors would not be kept from their Schwartz Cups, however, as they won the ensuing skit competition for the second year in a row with a parody of Grease.
Originally begun as a glorified costume contest, the “Best Costume” category — which serves as a culmination to the day’s racing — has evolved into a skit competition that centers on inside jokes and teammates playing other teammates and coaches.
This year’s first-place runner-up included a three-way tie between the senior lightweights with a spoof inspired by the NFL and NBA lockouts, the senior women with the Harry Potter-based “Tri-Rower tournament” and the senior heavyweights with their rendition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The latter starred men’s heavyweight commodore Jim Voter as a very convincing Todd Kennett-Willy Wonka hybrid known as “Todd-y Wonka,” with Alex Karwoski filling the role of Charlie Bucket — or rather, junior men’s heavyweight coxswain Ryan Anthony.
Various incarnations of “hydrilla” also made their way into many of the skits.
As much as Schwartz Cup revolves around fun and tradition, there is also a competitive element to the day that does not go unnoticed by the men’s heavyweight head coach and Spirit of ’57 Director of Rowing.
“I think you saw it between my juniors and seniors,” Kennett explained. “Those two boats were killing it to kill each other, and they missed each other by .8 seconds ... over the better part of 20 minutes.
“We’re going to be limited to water this fall, with the hydrilla ... so instead we need to make sure we make up for it in other ways, whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s on the erg ... Having fun, but getting stronger and bigger, better.”
According to Kennett, the city of Ithaca is planning to spray herbicide to combat the hydrilla as soon as possible while still abiding by bureaucratic stipulations.
“The city is going as fast as they can, following the law which I think is a great thing. They’ve really worked very hard to try to make this happen, because again it could really goof this lake up,” he said.
Hopefully it won’t be long before the entire Cornell rowing program will be able to prove that you can, in fact, go home again.
“For the week of actual time that we had where the boathouse seemed to be done and we were in it the way we were supposed to be, it was phenomenal,” Kennett said. “I can’t wait to get back in there.”