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In 1872, University of Pennsylvania ("Penn") students founded the College Barge Club to provide an alternative to the school's first boat club, the University Barge Club, and to focus on preparing students for intercollegiate competitions. The Club later changed its name from College Barge Club to College Boat Club.
In the club's first year, it had only 20 members, mostly sophomores from the University's graduating Class of 1875. At first, the Club rowed out of the Quaker City Barge Club. However, College Boat Club grew quickly and was able to build its own boathouse in 1874.
In 1877, sophomores from College Boat Club were victorious against seniors rowing out of University Barge Club. By 1879, the Club was the base for most Penn crews, and members were rowing in intercollegiate competitions. In 1893, College Boat Club opened membership to alumni as well as enrolled students. In 1904, the Club admitted alumni crews as far back as 1899. Currently, membership for alumni is limited to former varsity rowers.
In 2005, Penn finished third in the Men's Varsity Lightweight Eight and fourth in the Men's Freshman Eight. In 2006, the Men's Freshman Eight finished third.
In 2008, the Men's Open Four qualified for the grand final, but finished sixth. The last time that the Penn won the Ivy League Championship at IRAs was 1992, when Penn tied Dartmouth. Penn has won the Ivy League Championship eight additional times in 1898, 1899, 1900, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, and 1989.
Joe Burk, "world's greatest oarsman," WWII PT boat commander
The 1955 Men's Heavyweight 8, coached by Joe Burk, won at the Henley Regatta, and the crew's speed drew attention and acclaim internationally. One source highlights the accolades as follows:
Everywhere they competed, particularly in Germany, they were referred to as the world's fastest crew, and hence became models for local oarsmen.
To European observers, Penn seemed to defy the laws of physics that applied to all other crews. In their Henley semifinal, they had beaten Britain's best, Thames Rowing Club by a half-length of open water at a ratingThe Times termed "a majestic thirty."
The strength and speed of the Penn pullthrough, the endless run on the impossibly long recovery, seemed as unattainable in its own way as Joe Burk's sculling technique had seemed to them seventeen years earlier.
At their regatta in Hamburg, when Penn made its first impression on the German rowing community, one of the most interested spectators was Dr. Karl Adam of Ratzeburger Ruderklub. He was already working out a new international technique, initially under the influence of Steve Fairbairn.
Eight years later, Adam confessed to Joe Burk that he had returned home from Hamburg very depressed and wondering whether they could ever beat the invincible Americans.
Penn has enjoyed the tutelage of many of the best rowing coaches of all time including Rusty Callow, Joe Burk, Ted Nash, Stan Bergman, Brendan Cunningham, and Hudson Peters.
In 2004, former Penn coach Ted Nash became the first person to participate in 10 Olympic games as either an athlete or coach when he was appointed as a coach on the 2004 team in Athens. This is a record for any member of any US Olympic team, regardless of event or sport. During his first games at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Nash was on the gold-medal winning four without coxswain boat. In 2008 he showed no signs of slowing down as made it 11 by returning again to the Olympic stage in Beijing as coach of the heavyweight men's coxless pair.
Stan Bergman coached the Men's Heavyweight Rowing Program to numerous championships at all levels. He is held in extraordinary regard in the rowing community, and beyond, for his success with his crews on and off the water.
Head Coach of Women's Crew: Wesley Ng
Head Coach of Women's Crew Emeritus/Quaker Rowing Camp Director: Michael "Touchdown" Lane