Many rowers who have participated in the Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta will tell you that the countdown to the next year’s competition usually begins the day after the current one concludes, with the excitement and hype reaching a crescendo by the time they put their oars back into the Schuylkill.
But the 82nd annual Dad Vail is a regatta that has been anticipated like no other in its history. The cancellation of the 2020 event because of the pandemic has made the buildup to this year’s event electric enough to light up the 2,000-meter course.
And given that at least one half of the rosters of the men’s and women’s crews at Drexel and Temple have never rowed in the Dad Vail, the hype is good — to a point.
“It’s like you were starting from scratch,” Drexel men’s and women’s coach Paul Savell said. “You were rebuilding a brand new team. All the craziness is on the land. Once you get out on the water, it’s pretty easy to keep focused. It’s what they’ve been doing all year. But it’s just keeping their heads in it.”
“I think the hype of Dad Vail comes from the women who have been there before. So they’re able to pass down the excitement and the anticipation and the tradition,” Temple women’s coach Rebecca Grzybowski said. “They all know how important it is and how special it is to be part of it. And then the women who’ve been there before share that with the freshmen and the sophomores who are about to experience it for the first time, so that’s fun to see.”
The Owls won their first-ever women’s points championship at the 2019 regatta, which fueled Temple to the overall title, its first since 1996. The Owls broke Drexel’s six-year streak of overall championships.
While more than 100 teams and 3,500 rowers participated in 2019, when the Dad Vail was its customary two days, this year’s regatta was reduced to one day given the short window that officials had to accept entries after the City of Philadelphia decided in March to allow the annual spring regattas to be held.
This year’s event has attracted more than 45 teams and 1,100 rowers. No spectators will be allowed to watch the races. A live stream of the event is to be at www.dadvail.org.
After experiencing a year unlike any other, with the pandemic shutting down crew programs in the city and elsewhere, coaches and rowers are grateful for any chance to compete.
“I think the one-day Dad Vail just brings back the idea that we’re lucky. We’re thankful to be able to do it,” Savell said. “The reason it’s one day is because so many teams can’t come. So I think it just brings you back to the idea of being thankful. So it’s a good mindset to have.”
Temple men’s coach Brian Perkins said that, except for “one little outbreak” of the coronavirus in the third varsity eight boat this year, his rowers have remained in their bubbles and stayed safe.
“They’ve prioritized health and safety and the well-being of their teammates,” he said. “We’ve made it to here with intact lineups, and hopefully now are going to see the fruit of their sacrifices. They sacrificed a whole year. They could have salvaged some fun out of being a college student, but they sacrificed all that to keep everybody safe and for the good of the team.”
The men’s varsity heavyweight eight crews from the city schools have raced three times this spring, competing together in the Murphy Cup, the Kerr Cup, and the Bergen Cup. Temple won all three races, with Drexel registering two seconds and a third, and St. Joseph’s and La Salle holding their own.
“It’s tough to race the same crews over and over and over,” Perkins said. “They eventually try to find a way to beat you. They see us every week. If they can steal a couple of seconds here and there, they do. These are tough crews in Philadelphia, so it’s going to be weird.”
The women’s local crews also have much familiarity. Drexel pulled out a win at the Kerr Cup and second at the Murphy Cup, with Temple’s best finish a second at the Kelly Cup.
“At Dad Vail, everybody brings their best at the end of the season, and that’s how it goes,” Grzybowski said. “So you’re only as good as your last race. This one, we have to be ready to show up and perform. In the moment, it’s who can bring their best race. I’m excited to put ourselves up against everybody else’s best.”