October 22, 2008

A Fall Tradition on Cayuga Lake

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Usually, team traditions are carried out because they are simply that: traditions. Sometimes a modern amendment to the tradition may be long overdue, and other times it represents something better than simply an inherited occurrence. For the Cornell rowing program, the annual Schwartz Cup is one of those golden rituals that make the fall crew season shine.
Every autumn, Cornell rowing enthusiasts Dick and Jean Schwartz fund a crew race on the Cayuga Inlet. But unlike typical regattas, only Cornell crews compete. And unlike typical competitions, the rowers must perform both on and off the water, by class and against alumni. The day begins at the Collyer Boathouse with a skit performance and finishes with a 5,000 meter head race out onto Cayuga Lake.
“Jean and Dick Schwartz are big Cornell rowing supporters and they decided to have this inner-squad race to build up a sense of camaraderie for Cornell crew,” said senior heavyweight men’s captain Jason Malumed. “It’s basically a celebration of all things Cornell crew.”
Each boat is divided up by classes and must come up with a short skit, complete with costumes, to perform for the Schwartzes’ enjoyment. The skits are judged and the victorious boat is announced at the conclusion of the morning’s contest. While the race is divided into heavyweight and lightweight men, women and novice categories, there is only one overall winner of the Schwartz skit.
“The winner of the skit is the one that has the best costumes, but it’s also one that everyone enjoys too,” said senior lightweight men’s captain Mike Gavalas.
“You are supposed to try to cater the skits to the Schwartzes,” said senior women’s captain Cathleen Balantic. “The skits will playfully make fun of coaches or people on the team.”
While the skits provide a lighthearted warm-up to the inner-squad rivalry, they are nearly as competitive as the racing itself. Last weekend, the sophomore lightweight men claimed the specially designed pewter Schwartz Cup mug for best skit.
“Racing is obviously really important but the lightweight guys haven’t won the skit in a long time,” Gavalas said. “It was nice to see the skit go to them this year.”[img_assist|nid=32865|title=Eyes on the prize|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“You have to approach both the skit and the race with an equal amount of intensity,” Malumed said. “For [the senior heavyweights] this year, the race was the most important. It was our last Schwartz cup, being seniors, and we really wanted to go out and make an impression. But the skit is really the talking point. Everyone tends to forget the rowing after a while and the skit is what people end up remembering.”
“Both the skits and the racing come with their own degree of prestige, but the rowing is certainly more fun to win,” Balantic said.
After the skits, the second phase of the competition is carried out in head-race style, meaning that the boats start in intervals and victory is awarded after each crew has finished the course.
“Fall racing is always head race style, so it’s basically like a time trial,” Gavalas said. “There are so many boats on the water that racing it one by one is the only way you can do it.”
Twenty eight-person crews participated in the Schwartz Cup last weekend, including two full alumni shells. The senior heavyweight men, senior women and junior lightweight men turned in the fastest times of the day to claim their respective mugs. Though the race is purely fun for the alumni, their presence is an essential component of this Cornell rowing tradition.
“The Schwartz Cup is an opportunity for the alumni to get back and see how the program is coming along and to get together and row in their own boats,” Balantic said.
“It’s fun for alumni that haven’t rowed in a long time to come back and row,” Gavalas said.
The Schwartz Cup caps the end of pre-fall training for the Cornell crews and serves as a transition into the fall racing season. Both the 5,000 meter distance and the head-race style of the Schwartz Cup are consistent with those of the remaining fall regattas.
“It’s a weekend of a lot of fun,” Gavalas said. “It’s a good tradition because everyone gets an experience with the alumni and it’s good to get in a race before the Head of the Charles weekend.”