Onward like the swallow going,
roused is every nerve and sense;
Oh the wild delight of knowing,
'tis our pow'r that does the rowing....
—THE CORNELL CREW SONG
The 75th Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship was ending last Saturday in Syracuse, and the voices of Cornell's varsity eight were lifted in song. No one knew how old the song was—from the 1890s, said one amateur historian—or when it had last been heard at a race. But now the time seemed right because Cornell had just won the Varsity Challenge Cup for the 20th time, beating second-place Penn by 2.5 seconds on Lake Onondaga.
It was the Big Red's second victory in two weeks over Penn, a crew that is coached—some prefer the word "terrorized"—by Ted Nash, a man of military dedication and demeanor. After losing to Cornell at Ithaca the previous weekend, Nash had his men out running the stairs of Schoellkopf Stadium the next morning.
"My guys would never do that," said Findley Meislahn, 35, Cornell's first-year varsity coach.
"Well, just tell 'em to," he was urged.
"Know how to spell 'fat chance'?" he replied. "I'm not Ted Nash, and this isn't Penn. These guys are highly independent. I don't think they need me for very much."
"Findley gives us our jelly beans," said Frank Garry, Cornell's senior seven oar, a 6'3" farm boy who says "You betcha" about nine times a day and is headed for veterinary school.
Findley Meislahn? What kind of name is that for a crew coach? Findley Meislahn belongs in a Thomas Hardy novel, striding across some stormy moor. But now Meislahn stood on the victory dock. For 1,700 meters, as Cornell trailed Penn, he had paced the shoreline, wringing his hands and smacking his head. Then Cornell took a power 10 and pulled ahead, and when the Big Red's victory was certain Meislahn began jumping up and down, waving his hat and shouting wordless cries. It was strictly a Cornell-Penn race, with California coming in seven seconds behind Penn, followed by Yale, Oregon State and Wisconsin.
Cornell's strong finish captured the fancy of the sun-soaked, beer-drinking crowd. One raucous voice sang out, "Don't send my boy to Harvard, the dying mother said...." The song raced through the Ivy League, and finished, "...and as for Penn-syl-van-i-a I'd see him first in hell."
Some consider the IRA the national championship, and in one way it is. No other sizable regatta is open to all the rowing schools in the country. But among the missing crews were Harvard, considered by many the nation's best, and Washington, perhaps the best in the West. "Is the winner here the national champion?" IRA officials were asked. "Well...," they replied.