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Harvard-Yale Regatta leaves mark on Ledyard, Waterford neighbors

By Colin A. Young

Publication: The Day

Published June 08. 2014 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Yale fans cheer Saturday during one of the races of the Harvard-Yale Regatta on the Thames River in the Bartlett Point area of Waterford.

Ledyard — The rock in Bartlett Cove will remain crimson for at least another year.

Harvard University won the 149th annual Harvard-Yale Regatta on the Thames River on Saturday, extending the Crimson's streak to seven consecutive years.

With the victory comes the bragging rights: painting the large rock that juts out into the river from Bartlett Cove in Waterford in the school colors.

The race, steeped in history and tradition, is the oldest rivalry in American college sports, and for that reason carries a certain significance for both schools. "This is the best race to win," Harvard coxswain William Hakim said after the 4-mile upstream race, which Harvard won with a time of 19:32.3.

This year's regatta was even more significant for the Harvard squad as it was the first race since 1962 without legendary coach Harry Parker, who lost his battle with cancer just three weeks after the 2013 regatta.

"It's wonderful what we could accomplish this year for the obvious reason," Charley Butt, Parker's successor as coach of Harvard, said.

This week, Harvard unveiled a memorial to Parker at Red Top, the school's training facility on Military Highway in Gales Ferry.

On Saturday, alumni and visitors stopped to snap photos of the memorial and read the Parker quote emblazoned on a plaque.

Alumni, family members and other fans travel from across the country to attend the regatta. Harvard supporters gather at Red Top and the nearby boathouse, and Yale supporters congregate on the other side of the river at the rock in Bartlett Cove.

Among those taking in the race at the Harvard boathouse Saturday was Texas native John Mann Gardner, who said he has no connection to either side of the historic rivalry.

"I had been hearing about the race for years and then I started getting involved with the Harvard athletic department after the success their basketball team had," he said. "So here we are."

Less than a mile from Red Top is "the Ferry," Yale's training camp which sits in the midst of the close-knit residential neighborhood on Riverside Place.

Both Ivy League schools have maintained training facilities in Gales Ferry since the regatta was moved to the Thames River in 1878.

Riverside Place is undeniably Bulldogs territory: the Ferry and other buildings are painted Yale blue and white and in the middle of the street someone has painted "Go Yale Go" and the Yale rowing logo.

Across the street from the Ferry is Margo Sewall's red house. Saturday afternoon she gathered with friends and family on her porch to listen to the race on the radio and hope for a Yale victory.

"It's a red house," she said. "But we're blue and white all the way."

Indeed, for the week leading up to the regatta each year Sewall hangs a blue and white banner on the front of her house. "Row Well Yale," it reads.

"We support Yale any way we possibly can," Sewall said. "I feel lucky to live right across the street. They're really great neighbors."

Before moving to Riverside Place 36 years ago, Sewall had no allegiance to Yale, but has been a diehard Bulldogs supporter. In fact, her family has closer ties to Harvard.

"I don't admit to it too loudly, but my father went to Harvard," Sewall said.

Once and only once, Sewall said, she invited her father to watch the regatta with her. After a Harvard victory, he stood on her porch and sang the Harvard fight song at the top of his lungs.

"I had to disown him for that weekend," she said. "And I never invited him back for the race after that."

Sewall said she has seen the regatta change over the years. The Yale rowers seem to arrive a bit later and leave a bit earlier each year. The neighborhood used to be full of kids who thought of the Yalies as princes.

And though Yale has won just seven times in the 36 years she's lived on Riverside Place, the regatta will always be a great way to kick off the summer.

"It's a lot of fun to be part of this many regattas," Sewall said. "While I do wish Yale would win more often, even if they don't win we'll wait and hope for next year."

c.young@theday.com

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