About the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta
Pictured in launch are, from left, Lyman Perry, founder, Christopher Blackwall and Mitch Budman, co-director.
Competitors in the 2017 Head of the Schuylkill Regatta® continue a tradition of exceptional fall racing that began more than four decades ago. While the expansive scope of the two-day Regatta today bears little resemblance to its 1970 roots, the spirit of the Regatta endures: a fall race showcasing high-caliber crews as well as those new to the sport. An estimated 180 competitors participated in the first race. Last year, more than 8,900 athletes crossed the finish line of the 2.5-mile scenic course.
In 1970, three members of University Barge Club, located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row, launched the idea for a new fall race, transforming the 1000 meter Graduate Sculls race into a head racing format. The aim of 1960 Olympian Lyman Perry, Jay Pattison III, and the late Raul Betancourt, was to offer rowers of all ages congenial autumn competition. In head races, competitors race the clock over a course that is typically two to three miles long, often toward the river’s headwaters.
At a time when only elite, college and junior athletes competed in “head” or distance races, the newly established Head of the Schuylkill Regatta emphasized graduate oarsmen and opened racing to newly emerging masters’ and women’s teams. Twelve women entered the first regatta; in 2013, more than 3,200 females competed, and for the first time outnumbered male competitors. The Regatta’s spirit of inclusion grew along with its size and scope. Early Regattas hosted dozens of college, high school and masters rowers. The Regatta soon welcomed recreational and adaptive athletes. The first point, or team, trophy was presented to Vesper Boat Club in 2010. Vesper has won the coveted trophy every year since.
The name change to The Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta occurred in 1975. Born in 1844, Thomas Eakins was a Philadelphia painter, whose works include scullers on the Schuylkill River. The Regatta emerged as the world’s largest one-day rowing competition. Its popularity, however, soon exceeded the river’s capacity. In 2008, the format changed to a two-day event. This step expanded racing opportunities for rowers and increased tourism for the Philadelphia region. With the new format the regatta became a 501©3 non-profit organization with an 11-member board of directors and a volunteer corps that exceeds 350 people, many of whom work year-round.
In the new two-day format, college crews race on Saturday along with the majority of elite and masters rowers, while high schools, and other elite, masters and veteran rowers reign on Sunday. Elite and Masters events are spread throughout the weekend. Other recent scheduling enhancements include high school and college alumni events and the allowance of competitors to row multiple races.
In addition to hosting thousands of competitors, the 2017 Regatta, on Saturday, October 28 and Sunday, October 29, will again welcome an additional 30,000 – 40,000 spectators building on the Regatta’s reputation as one of the nation’s premier events at the location regarded as the home of American Rowing. And, for the third time, the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta will partner with the Gold Cup Foundation to bring the top male and female scullers from around the world for a competition on the Schuylkill River, and a corporate challenge race for local companies.
Parents, family, and friends will line the course to cheer the competitors and enjoy The Three Angels Statues Festival Area, named for the Carl Milles sculpture punctuating the river’s east bank. Crews from across the country and around the world, slicing down the course to the finish line, are forever embedded in the rich tradition of Philadelphia’s Fall Festival of rowing, the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta.