Published June 04. 2014 4:00AM
Ledyard — After arriving Sunday at Red Top, Harvard's training camp, the Crimson gathered outside at the new Harry Parker memorial overlooking the Thames River.
The Crimson held a moment of silence for 44 seconds to honor Parker, their legendary coach who lost his courageous battle with cancer last June.
The number represented Parker's wins over his impressive 51-year career in the historic Harvard-Yale Regatta, which will run for the 149th time on Saturday, starting at 2:45 p.m. It is America's oldest intercollegiate athletic event.
The Parker memorial features a beautiful stone wall built in the shape of a bending oar. Resting on top of the wall is a replica of Parker's megaphone right down to the wooden handle and a plaque with a Parker quote from 1963, his first season as coach.
"Harry was an exceptional man, a charismatic figure in the rowing world and for his oarsmen," Harvard coach Charley Butt said sitting outside Red Top on a sparkling spring afternoon on Tuesday. "It was based on the passion that he had for the sport and how much he loved this place. He treasured the time the oarsmen spent here, because they were away from school and it was about getting your boat ready to race."
"... It's a connection to the past. It's a connection to the tradition."
In Parker's final Harvard-Yale Regatta last year, the Crimson swept every race for the sixth straight year, including the varsity eight by 23 seconds. Harvard increased its lead in the series to 94-54.
Parker passed away about two weeks later.
"He hid his illness pretty well," senior Andrew Holmes said. "We didn't realize how bad he was. He was a man of few words, but I've never seen him as excited to race Yale.
"We know how important it is ... We just want to keep the momentum going."
Butt, who served as the Harvard lightweight coach for 28 years before replacing Parker, said the Crimson would rather win Harvard-Yale than the IRA National Championship.
It's that important.
"This has been our focus the entire year," Butt said. "This is a regatta that's been contested since 1852."
Yale coach Steve Gladstone treats Harvard-Yale as the next big race on the schedule.
"It's a major event," Gladstone said. "And in the hearts and minds of the Yale and Harvard oarsmen, the tradition is large. Let's leave it at that. ... This race is a phenomenal race."
Once again, Harvard enters as the favorite.
The two elite programs competed in the national championship last weekend in New Jersey, with Harvard placing fifth and Yale sixth. It was the first race that the Crimson lost all year.
Now Harvard and Yale will be competing in the longest race of the season - a grueling four-mile, upstream competition.
"You have to be ready for anything," Harvard senior Andrew Reed said. "There's a lot of new challenges that we're facing in this race."
The Bulldogs are enjoying a successful season, going undefeated in the cup races despite competing with a relatively inexperienced crew of two freshmen, four sophomores and two seniors.
Gladstone believes his team is well-prepared for the Harvard-Yale Regatta.
"The whole idea is to get your maximum performance and see where it gets you," Gladstone said. "With poise and aggression coupled, they could put down a very good race."