85th Anniversary – A History of the Dad Vail Regatta 

By Bill Jurgens             

The Dad Vail Regatta is rich in history and traditions which make it unlike any other regatta in the country. The historical beginning in 1934 would not have been possible without the insights and unselfish leadership of its founders, Russel Stanley “Rusty” Callow and Lev Brett, the architect. Callow first saw the need to provide a regatta for programs which did not have the resources to compete at the highest level and for emerging programs not ready to compete at the highest level.  

With stops at the University of Washington (1922-1927); the University of Pennsylvania (1927-1950); and the United States Naval Academy (1950-1959) where he coached the 1952 Olympic gold medal eight, Callow wanted to hold a race for his colleague and friend Harry Emerson “Dad” Vail.

 For the first race in 1934, Callow donated a trophy called the “Dad” Vail Trophy in honor of his friend who at the time was the coach at the University of Wisconsin which had limited resources, less than adequate workout space, and no indoor rowing tank. Callow wrote that Harry Emerson “Dad” Vail was a beloved person. He was called dad by his rowers and epitomized what the Dad Vail Regatta stands for in his caring for people, his display of sportsmanship, and his positive and persevering attitude. (U. T. Bradley, circa 1961).

After the Dad Vail Regatta began in 1934, the founding members realized structure was needed for the regatta to grow and better serve its constituents. In 1939 the Dad Vail Regatta became organized with a slate of officers and a constitution thanks in large part to Lev Brett, who had the impetus for the formation and as a result the regatta became known as the Dad Vail Rowing Association.   

Another important change for the regatta came in 1989 when they became a 501(c)(3) so volunteers could be protected from the risks associated with being a part of the Dad Vail Regatta; this was a relatively new protection granted by the state of Pennsylvania for incorporated organizations. With this needed change, the Dad Vail Regatta’s corporate identity became the Dad Vail Regatta Organizing Committee. 

The Dad Vail Regatta and its leadership have changed over the years but the basic principle of providing a regatta that serves the interests and needs of all rowing programs has remained consistent throughout its 85-year history. The most recent change is having its first female President, Kirsten Ledwith Morasco to continue in the tradition of great leaders. Morasco exemplifies the importance of volunteerism and family involvement in running the Dad Vail Regatta. Her father, Matt Ledwith, long term Dad Vail Official, introduced his children to the enjoyment and rewards of working with other volunteers.  

Other outstanding leaders who preceded Morasco were Lev Brett (1939-1950), Anthony Savarese (1950-1952), Jim Nesworthy (1952-1954), Jack Bratten (1954-1966), Richard O’Brien (1966-1971), Tom Conville (1971-1977), Jack Galloway (1977-2001), and most recently Jim Hanna (2001-2023).  

The featured event of the Dad Vail Regatta has been the men’s and women’s varsity heavyweight eight. Throughout its history, which spans eight and half decades, five rowing programs helped develop their crews by competing in the Dad Vail Regatta before moving on to the IRA. These programs were Rutgers University with seven wins (1935-1942), Boston University with four victories (1947-1950), Dartmouth College with two (1954-1955), Brown University with three (1959-1961), and Northeastern University with one (1965).  

Marietta College won the first Dad Vail Regatta in 1934. The following year, Rutgers University began its seven-year win streak until the event had to be put on hold for four years (1943-1946) because of World War II.  

The success of Rutgers University in the 30s and 40s resulted in the retiring of the first “Dad” Vail Trophy to Rutgers, which coincided with Rutgers advancing to the IRA. In 1947 Lev Brett, Chair of the Board of Stewards, provided the second Dad Vail trophy which he presented to Head Coach James Nesworthy of Boston University. In the 50s, LaSalle University twice won three consecutive men’s varsity eight races for a total of six victories (1951-1953 and 1956-1958). The 60s saw Georgetown University and Marietta College fighting it out for dominance with Georgetown winning four times (1962, 1964, 1968, and 1969) and Marietta with three victories (1963, 1967, and 1968). The 70s saw the emergence of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy who won six times (1972, and 1975-1979), The 80s began the long-term dominance of Temple University with six victories (1983-1987, and 1989) and Florida Tech (FIT) followed with two wins (1982 and 1988). The 90s were a complete dominance by Temple’s men’s varsity eight (1990-1999). The first decade of the 2000s saw three programs with at least two wins; Temple University with four (2000-2001 and 2003-2004), University of Michigan with two (2005 and 2009), and Purdue University with two (2007-2008). In the 2010’s decade, there were three programs with two victories; University of Michigan (2010 and 2011), Florida Tech (2015 and 2016), and Drexel University (2013 and 2017). The Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the 2020s-decade, Temple won in 2021 before Drexel registered two victories (2022 and 2023). 

The Dad Vail Regatta introduced women’s rowing competition in 1976 with the varsity eight as the featured event. Ithaca College won two out of the four varsity eight races in the 70s (1976 and 1979). In the 80s, Western Ontario won three times (1981,1982 and 1989) with the University of New Hampshire winning two (1985 and 1986). The only team in the 90s to win more than once was Temple University with two (1994 and 1996). The first decade of the 2000s saw the University of Massachusetts winning twice (2002 and 2003). In the 2010’s decade, the University of Massachusetts won three times (2014-2016) and Boston University won twice (2018 and 2019).  The Dad Vail Regatta was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the 2020s-decade, Drexel University won in 2021, Princeton University won in 2022, and Boston University won in 2023. 

The Jack Bratten Overall Point Trophy was established in 1967 to recognize the men’s overall champion, which in 1976 became the combined men’s and women’s overall champion. With the expansion of teams and events two additional all-point trophies were established in 1986: the Nancy J. Seitz Women’s All-Point Trophy and the Dr. Thomas Kerr Men’s All-Point Trophy.   

The traditions and practices of the Dad Vail Regatta are a big part of its success. A tented banquet is held on Friday evening following racing action to recognize volunteers for their service; to celebrate the 25th and 50thanniversary winners of the men’s and women’s varsity eights and to recognize the Coach of the Year along with the Volunteer of the Year. 

Volunteers who have been with the regatta for five years receive a Dad Vail Regatta Lapel Pin and volunteers who have been with the regatta for 10 years receive their highly coveted Gold Jacket.   

Another important tradition is showing appreciation for the communities surrounding the regatta by hosting an art poster contest for high school students and providing paid internships for the underrepresented population of local college students. It has always been a goal of the Dad Vail Regatta to provide the coaches and student-athletes with an experience that will last for a lifetime.  



References: Historical information provided by Jim Hanna, past president, Jack Galloway, past president and chair, and Ed Levin, Director of PublicityU. T. Bradley (circa 1961). The Dad Vail Story. The Rollins Press, Inc.; and Ralph Lindamood (1994). Marietta Crew: A History of Rowing at Marieta College; and the Dad Vail Regatta web site. 


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