The geese were watching in peace. No one bothered them and no hollers scared them elsewhere near the spectator-less grandstands, as teams of rowers swept down the river toward the finish line.
The return of the Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta was almost serene. With no vendors and no athletes’ village, the event was so quiet, you could hear rowers counting.
The 82nd annual Dad Vail, which typically hosts some 100 colleges and 3,000 athletes, is smaller this year, with 45 colleges and 1,100 athletes. The regular two-day affair, which typically attracts 15,000 to 20,000 spectators total, depending on weather, was trimmed down to a single Saturday with no lunch break.
As the day began, Mayor Jim Kenney addressed members of the media, noting his pleasure to see the regatta’s return.
”It’s not a problem coming out to this event, especially when it’s such a beautiful day and we’re coming out of what we’ve come out of, over the last year plus,” Kenney said on a cloudy yet dry morning when rain had been in the forecast.
”I’m just glad that the athletes are on the river and doing their thing, and next year we expect us to have a full-blown Dad Vail.”
The COVID-19 restrictions made Jim Hanna, the Dad Vail Regatta Organizing Committee’s president, think back to the regattas of generations past, in the 1970s and earlier, before they had all the vendors, before they became used to the scent of barbecue wafting in the air.
”We’re strictly running races,” Hanna said. “It’s an old-fashioned boat race.”
Taylor Roberts, Dad Vail’s coordinator of para rowing, said that even with the restrictions, the event was a highlight in a season where many other large competitions had been canceled.
”It’s not the same as the normal Dad Vail, where you have, like, the athlete village, but I think it still carries the same prestige as it does in spite of the restrictions, which I think is a big deal for a lot of athletes because they still want that competitive outlet,” Roberts said.
Passersby were still welcome along the Schuylkill, so as the races went on, joggers, cyclists, and folks taking leisurely strolls coursed through. Many rowers prepared or looked on in separate groups, chatting among themselves, as socializing was restricted.
Often, they’d cheer on other athletes, but without crowds, the shouts were often solitary.
For Alexander DeNolfo, who competed in the first heat of the day for men singles in a scull, “the world goes silent” when he’s competing, anyway.
The lack of spectators didn’t really make a difference for the Radnor native, who just graduated from Temple University and placed fourth in the afternoon final for the same event. He liked the quieter vibe.
“It kind of gives you some time to self-reflect,” DeNolfo said. “It’s a lot less of a hype and a lot more internal. You’re looking into yourself, looking in your boat, everyone’s getting ready for the races, and it’s really all about the racing. And that’s good. There’s no distractions. So, I think we’re making the best out of a dark situation, definitely.”