This weekend, the rowing teams celebrated the 150th anniversary of rowing at Cornell. Saturday’s festivities featured the annual Schwartz Cup, the singing of the Cornell Crew Song and visiting with rowing alumni and supporters.
At 8:30 a.m., the Schwartz Cup commenced. The men’s lightweight, men’s heavyweight and women’s teams divided their ranks by class year for a friendly competition within Cornell’s ranks. Each team traced a long distance route along the Cayuga inlet and ended with a 500-meter sprint to the finish.
For the men’s heavyweight crew, the senior boat emerged victorious. The junior boat was quick to follow, surging across the finish line several seconds after the seniors.
The heavyweight team also compiled a mixed boat with members across classes who had missed the week’s practices because they were sick. Considering their last-minute compilation, the team had a surprisingly impressive performance that landed them in third place. The sophomore team and freshman team placed fourth and fifth, respectively.
Todd Kennett ’91, head coach of men’s heavyweight and Spirit of ’57 director of
rowing, said that he was pleased with the team’s performance.
“I was excited about the results because I was really nervous we weren’t moving fast,” Kennett said. “Then, we put those boats together and I said ‘Holy smokes.’ These are some of the more optimistic results we’ve had this fall. If we keep rising up and the guys keep working hard, we could get pretty good.”
The men’s lightweight team saw similar results. The senior boat led the way to the finish, with the freshman team streaming behind them to place second overall. The sophomore and junior team placed third and fourth, respectively.
The women’s team supplied five boats for the competition, with four eight+ boats devoted to each class in addition to an extra coxed four boat. The juniors won first place and were quickly accompanied by the senior team. The freshmen placed third, the sophomores fourth, and the four+ boat followed to finish in fifth.
“For the women’s team, the juniors were able to get it done,” said Steve Coppola, head coach of women’s rowing. “There was a lot of back and forth and some great competition.”
While the races only contained members of the Cornell crew, the competition was steep.
“It’s about class pride so nobody’s holding back,” Kennett said. “There’s a lot of pride and a lot of juice on the line when this race comes around. The last thing you want to do is lose to a younger team because that’s embarrassing. So, most people are going to rise up and do a good job.”
However, these competitions were lighthearted. As per a long-held Schwartz Cup tradition, each team dresses up in costumes for the races.
“It was snowing sideways,” said Kennett. “It was miserable but somebody had the idea to dress the rowers up as reindeer and the coxswain as Santa Claus. That spurred on the whole thing. It was around Halloween and everyone was really getting into it. Every year after that, it got a little bit more out of control.”
One of the more notable costume themes this year was “The Queen and her Guards.” The coxswain sported a tweed dress and wig, while the rest of the boat wore red uniforms and the bearskin hats characteristic of the British Royal guard.
Other teams dressed up as police officers and robbers, mermaids and lobsters and cowboys, among others. A few members of the women’s team donned bald caps, their theme aptly named “bald men.”
In its earlier years, the Schwartz Cup costume competition also consisted of skits that each team would perform in hopes of persuading Jean Schwartz, one of the cup sponsors, to award them the cup. However, recent teams have stuck to their traditional costumes. The men’s heavyweight juniors won this year’s costume competition for their “Queen and her Guards” theme.
Schwartz Cup festivities always succeed in boosting team camaraderie and building rapport among athletes.
“What’s really important is building that chemistry across the boathouse,” Coppola said. “We try to run these three programs so that the athletes can feel that while we’re each our own sport, we’re under one boathouse.”
The Schwartz Cup is one of the Cornell crew’s most beloved traditions. Originally named the Treman Cup, the cup was renamed after alumni Dick Schwartz ’60 and his wife, Jean, after their continuous sponsorship of the race. The rowing enthusiasts have supported the race for 34 years and have permanently endowed it, ensuring that the cup will always be a part of the Cornell crew program.
Later on in the day, the team, along with its alumni and supporters, sang their infamous tune entitled “The Cornell Crew Song.”
Head coach of men’s lightweight rowing Christopher Kerber explained that the song, although quite dated, serves as a representation of the rigor and dedication required for rowing.
“The Cornell Crew Song was developed in the late 1800’s as tradition to celebrate and honor the beauty and decisions we make as rowers every day,” Kerber wrote in an email to The Sun. “These traditions symbolize the camaraderie between the programs as we share in the suffering of this sport, but when it comes together it’s a beautiful thing to celebrate.”
The teams have a tradition of singing the song when riding home on the bus after away competitions. Despite its popularity within the rowing program, the song is difficult to master. Sophomore coxswain Mei Rao of the men’s heavyweight team acts as the designated “conductor” of the song and instructs new crew members on how to sing it.
However, when it was time to sing this Saturday, nobody struggled through the words.
“It was really cool to see alums from the 50’s and 60’s pick it up in harmony after all of those years,” Coppola said. “It was very special to see that they still knew it.”
Shortly after the singing of the Cornell crew song, athletes, coaches and alumni gathered to share Cornell rowing stories. Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, Dean of Students Marla Love and Director of Athletics Andy Noel were also in attendance. Visiting lecturer and historian Corey Earle ’07 gave a presentation on the influential history of rowing at Cornell.
In the late 1800’s, rowing helped establish Cornell as a prestigious university on par with Harvard and Yale. Its rowing successes drew the attention of the nation and put the newly founded institution on the map.
Coppola explained that since he’s only been the women’s head coach since 2019, he was especially grateful to have learned more about the program’s roots.
“It was so cool to learn about the history,” Coppola said. “We live it in the present, but this weekend we were able to look back and see it.”
Kennett expressed how grateful he was to reconnect with the alumni he had previously coached. He noted that despite the busy swarm of about 500 people, he saw bonds reformed by the minute.
“Cornell is hard. Everybody that goes to Cornell goes through something,” Kennett said. “And rowing is painful and it’s work… the blood, sweat, and tears come together and you make this connection. People haven’t seen each other for 20 years but you pick it up like it was yesterday because you know exactly what that person is about.”
Each coach explained that this weekend served as a reminder to those that have rowed before them and built the legacy that they are now continuing.
“I think the impact was massive on the athletes this weekend, getting to witness how many alumni came for this day,” Kerber wrote. “It reminds them how big of a program we truly are and their 4 years is a blip in the continuum of the program. Going forward they understand we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And pay it forward to the future crews from all those pioneering types of the past.”
The teams will hit the water again on Oct. 23 to compete at the Head of the Charles held in Boston, Massachusetts.