April 18, 2006

Heavyweight Crew Rows in Wake of Vast Red Tradition

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The men’s heavyweight crew, one the first sports here at Cornell, was originally tagged the “Tom Hughes Boat Club.”

“When the heavyweight men won their first championship in the early 1870’s, A.D. White himself ran up the bell tower and chimed the bells in celebration,” said lightweight men’s head coach Todd Kennett. “As he rang the bells, our founder shouted that ‘This simple event has done more to put us on the map than anything before it.'”

Another little known historical fact about Cornell crew tradition is that Cayuga Inlet, Cornell’s home race course, was built with the heavyweight crew team in mind.

Furthermore, the Octopus Bridge (Rt. 79), was specifically built so that a long time crew coach here at Cornell, affectionately referred to as Stork Stanford, could fit under the bridge.

Stork stood an intimidating six feet and seven inches tall and with the added height from standing on his launch to coach the rowers, the bridge needed extra clearance for Stork to fit under it.

Another Cornell rowing tradition is the Schwartz Cup, which is named after Jean and Dick Schwartz, two well-respected patrons of the Cornell rowing program. Normally held in the fall, this cup event pits the Cornell teams against one another in an intersquad race.

The rowing tradition at Cornell involves more than just old stories and cups that the crews compete for – the rowing tradition involves those little rituals particular to Cornell crews.

One tradition unique to the boathouse is a cheer that members of the team shout as a boat pushes off the dock to get set for a race, called a send-off cheer. The cheer appropriately goes, “Cornell-Cornell-BMA.” According to Kennett, the BMA stands for best men afloat.

Rumor has it that the cheer originated in the 1940’s when a member of Harvard, our longtime rival, was trash talking the Red crew team and a rower for Cornell responded with a polite, “bite my ass.”

Another one of these traditions is that, unlike many other highly competitive crews, although there may be the occasional optional practice at 7:30 a.m., there are no required early morning practices according to Kennett – especially ones starting at 5:30 in the morning.

The Red’s rowing tradition also has its roots in the intercollegiate tradition of rowing, which has its own special traditions.

One of these traditions is that after a race, the losing team will give the shirts to the winners. Another is that the coxswains will be thrown off the dock and into the water after a boat wins a race.

Each of these traditions make crew a sport that is often misunderstood, earning it nicknames like “the cult.” Rowers are often called masochistic because of the blisters on their hands and the pain they endure during a hard day on the water. Yet these traditions are part of what makes crew so enjoyable for those involved with the sport and so amusing for those who have not experienced it.

Archived article by Catherine Bourque
Sun Staff Writer