Upcoming Event: The Head of the Schuylkill Regatta

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More than five decades ago a unique and exciting sports tradition began in Philadelphia. Originated in 1970, the idea for a new fall rowing race was introduced by three members of the University Barge Club. The goal of this was to offer an autumn competition to rowers of all ages where they would race the clock over a 2-3 mile-long course. “Head” or distance races had only been open to athletes up until this time, but the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta opened up the race to newer rowers and teams. The fact that this new race was inclusive to all people made it grow and gain popularity among athletes and spectators alike.

It didn’t take long for the Regatta to become the world’s largest one-day rowing competition, and although it was good news for the race, the number of people racing soon exceeded the capacity of the river. In 2008, the race made changes to its scheduling and officially became a two-day race event in order to accommodate the number of racers coming to the event. Day one would be for college crews and elite rowers, while day two was reserved for high schools and veteran rowers. More than 260 high schools and colleges are represented on this day with people coming from all over including Canada, Europe, and Australia. Alongside the Regatta is a spectators building, where the nearly 40,000 family, friends, and fans will be able to line the course to see the rowers go by. Attendees to the event also get access to a free two-day fall festival that is set among the background of the city of Philadelphia.

Image credit: visitphilly.com

The Head of The Schuylkill Regatta states that their goal is to “showcase the Philadelphia and Schuylkill River, not only as a birthplace of American rowing but in its continued role as one of the most significant rowing venues in the country”. It is clear to see that the tradition is something Philadelphia takes pride in as the first race had 180 competitors, but fast forward to 2020 and 8,900 athletes participated in the iconic event.

Always taking place on the last weekend in October, the event is of huge importance to the city. It was the first inclusive race of its kind, welcoming Olympic rowers, women, men, high schools, colleges, and even beginners to all compete in the race. In 2013 history was made when the 3,200 women competing in the Head Of The Schuylkill Regatta outnumbered the number of males competing.

Image credit: visitphilly.com

In 2008, the change of the race to a two-day event allowed the Head Of The Schuykill Regatta to promote Philadelphia as a destination hot spot, and thus it was able to become a non-profit organization. The event now has an 11 person board of directors and there are 350 volunteers, many of which are members of the University Barge Club, who work all year round to make the event happen smoothly and safely.

Last year, even though it was the 50th anniversary of the event, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was held virtually. This year, the event will once again be held in person with masks required and either a full vaccination or a negative Covid test at least 72 hours prior to the event for all competitors. Spectators are strongly discouraged from attending the event meaning the usually busy vendor section will likely be quiet. For vendors who still want to be included in the event, an ad can be purchased in the 2021 Keepsake Program book. For competitors not yet ready to travel, you can compete virtually from either a rowing machine or a body of water and then submit your time to the event.

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Known as the City of Brotherly Love, it’s no surprise that Philadelphia is the founder of a truly inclusive and good-hearted event. The volunteers who help put together this event every year are people who love the sport of rowing and believe the event is so much more than just a race. The people who compete come from all over the world to be included in such an iconic and unique race that you can only find in the city of Philadelphia. From the vendors to the spectators to the volunteers and the competitors, the Head Of The Schyukill Regatta is truly a remarkable event that cannot be found anywhere else except in the historic and charming city of Philadelphia.

Image credit: hosr.org