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Ledyard — Sometimes, while Head Coach Charley Butt is his helping the Harvard Men's Heavyweight Crew prepare for the 150th rowing of the Harvard-Yale Regatta, he wonders what they might have in common with the crew from 150 years ago.
"I can't imagine what the undergraduates would talk to the undergraduates from that time about," Butt said. "But they would share rowing as a common interest. That's what I think is pretty remarkable about this event."
The Harvard-Yale Regatta, also known as the Yale-Harvard Regatta, consists of four-mile freshman, junior varsity and varsity men's races. It has been hosted at the Harvard Crew Boathouse — known more popularly as "Red Top" — and the Yale Crew Boathouse in Gales Ferry almost every year since 1878, after starting in 1852. It's been called off primarily in times of major wars.
"And the fact that it's the first intercollegiate event — look at what that's become," Butt added. "Alabama, the SEC, billion-dollar basketball contracts, and we're still here."
It's history that's hard to ignore at the Red Top facility, where etchings inside each bedroom's closet door keep a log of regattas gone by.
"Every person who's stayed there has written their name, year, whether they won or lost and a short, three- or four-word note," explained Harvard captain Max Meyer-Bosse. "Seeing those names just sort of sprawled out ... these are people you hear about, the legends of our team, and that's them physically writing, as an undergrad. That's pretty special."
Last year, he said, he wrote "feed it" — something the crew members yelled often.
"It's recognition that you're part of something that's a lot bigger than you, being a part of this team, and particularly for the 150th," Meyer-Bosse said.
The regatta has continued in part because of the Harvard-Yale Regatta Committee — with four members from Yale, four from Harvard — which handles the logistics, such as setting the course, every year.
This year the committee also organized an alumni row to occur the day before the regatta races. They've done the same thing a few times before, but not on this scale.
More than 100 alumni from both sides have committed to Saturday's alumni row, with enough to fill about 16 boats on the Harvard side and at least six on the Yale one.
On Saturday night, almost 400 alumni and friends will crowd into Leamy Hall at the Coast Guard Academy, where they'll enjoy dinner while listening to a few speakers.
"The response, it's phenomenal," said Edward "Doc-oh!" Burke, a member of the Yale Class of 1982. "People that haven't been back in years are coming back. It's not just because of the 150th — I think people are expecting it to be very competitive across all events this year."
Burke has been involved with the regatta committee since the early 1990s. Since he joined the committee, and even for many years prior to that, Harvard regularly has gotten the best of Yale.
"To their credit, even my colleagues on the Harvard side recognize that, for the good of the regatta, it should be more competitive," Burke said, laughing.
Harvard graduate Nick Bancroft — whose great-grandfather, grandfather, great-uncle and father before him also rowed in the regatta as Harvard students — is one of those colleagues.
Since Bancroft completed college in 1963, he's come back to the same Gales Ferry spot at least 40 of the following years. He's participated as an oarsman, an observer and a regatta committee member and this year will do so as an alumnus rower.
"The Yale guys have kept at it, but they have not won very many times in 50 years," he said. "We're hoping that (Yale Heavyweight Crew Head Coach Steve) Gladstone will continue to be very good — that makes for a good contest."
Gladstone, who's been at the helm since the 2010-11 year, led the varsity crew May 17 to its first Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Sprints win since 1982. The crew finished four places ahead of Harvard's.
Just two weeks later, at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship qualifying race, Yale finished two places behind Harvard, failing to qualify for the grand final.
"It's exciting to be going into Sunday, feeling confident, feeling like we have a real shot," said Yale Crew captain Lyon Van Voorhis.
The regatta here, he said, is the race he most wants to win.
"That's the one that has stuck out from the beginning," Van Voorhis said. "That's the thing I thought was neat, that no other school in the country has a race like this."
For the Saturday row, Bancroft will be participating on the oldest alumni team, consisting of members from the classes from 1959 through 1965.
Rowing in The Love Boat — an homage to the late Harvard Crew Head Coach Harvey Love, who died in Bancroft's senior year — he'll be joined by eight other men, including four he raced with as an undergraduate: Spencer Borden, Bob Schwarz, John Higginson and Perry Boyden.
"We'll really be interested in seeing if rowing is like bicycling in that you never forget it," Bancroft said. "And it'll be wonderful to be rowing on the Thames River again and hearing the voices of that river. With all the guys that put a lot of sweat, energy, expectation and sorrow into that river over those years — those voices are still there."
Above all, Burke said, the weekend's "emphasis is on people getting together and having fun."
"There's a saying we use in rowing: the older we are, the faster we were," he said with a laugh. "I'm sure that's going to be in full effect on Saturday."
Alumni who signed up for Saturday's event, even if they're not rowing, also will have a meal prepared for them before the first wave of alumni boats goes out. It's just one of the things Lee Ann Anderson — building and grounds manager for Harvard's Red Top training area for 31 years — has been organizing in the background as the weekend nears.
She's been helped by the Ledyard Police Department, the Gales Ferry Fire Department, the Ledyard Volunteer Emergency Squad and the town's Parks and Recreation department.
"They support us incredibly," she said.
Anderson also commended Tom Haynor, a graphic designer with Gales Ferry-based Captain Computer's recently created Graphics Division.
On his own initiative, Haynor decided to make a decal that businesses in the area could display on their windows for the weekend.
"Welcome to the 150th Harvard Yale Regatta," the sticker's font reads, placed in front of crossed paddles — one with Harvard's colors, one with Yale's.
Shortly after Anderson learned of the logo, she worked with Haynor and other local groups to put a version of it on khaki caps and long- and short-sleeve T-shirts available for pre-order and throughout the weekend.
"It's something unique to have in Gales Ferry," Anderson said. "For Ledyard to be hosting such an event, it should be like the Super Bowl is going on."