Turn back the clock: Penn rowing's legendary 1955 crew

Penn heavyweight rowing has had some success of late, but it pales in comparison to the accolades achieved by the legendary 1955 crew.


They were described as being the best in the world, even outright invincible. Sixty years ago, a Penn heavyweight crew made waves across the rowing world after outrowing a Vancouver crew on a sunny summer day in a race on the River Thames. The crew, coached by rowing legend Joseph “Joe” Burk, had won nothing less than the Grand Challenge Cup, the premier race at the annual Henley Royal Regatta.

The 1955 crew that had emerged victorious under Burk — John Weise, Harry Parker, Bart Fitzpatrick, Chuck Shaffer, Tom Friend, Frank Betts, Bruce Crocco, Fred Lane and coxswain J.L. “Fox” DeGurse — would go down in Penn rowing history as one of its finest.

Earlier in the year, they had broken Navy’s 31-race winning-streak in impressive fashion by taking home the Adams Cup. At the Eastern Sprints in the same season, the Quakers had initially been behind, but emerged with the win after a rare watery comeback.

Indeed, the 1955 crew was special. Burk himself captured its character in his description from a quote in Peter Mallory’s "Evolution of the Rowing Stroke."

“There were no stars, no magnificent hulks of manhood, no poetry of motion — just a well-integrated crew with a tremendous desire to win.”

The spirit of the crew and its coach had pushed them to defy the winter that year, and had — rather than rowing indoors in tanks — spent the winter practicing on the frigid Schuylkill.

According to a particularly indicative anecdote shared by Lane, coach Burk once dove into the freezing water in late December to make a point to comfort his rowers, showing that they would be okay should they fall in during practice.

After the academic year was over, Penn's crew headed to England to go oar-to-oar with some of the world’s best at the Royal Henley Regatta.

In the Grand Challenge Cup, the most prestigious race of the lot, the Red and the Blue managed to best the Thames Rowing Club — then considered the top crew in all of the British Isles — in the semifinal. The Quakers had won by a half-length, and the win shocked the crowds of spectators who had gathered to cheer on their national front-runner.

On the other side of the bracket, the combined forces of the Vancouver R.C. and the University of British Columbia had upset the Krasnoe Znamia crew from the Soviet Union after a powerful comeback. A novel, but formidable force, the Vancouver crew would represent Penn’s opposition in the grand final.

In the final, Penn found a comfortable lead early on, and was able to maintain it throughout. Vancouver closed in, but in the last stretches of the race, Penn was once again able to pull ahead. In the end, Pennsylvania — as it was often referred to back then — won by 20 feet in a time of 6:56.

It was a triumph on the Thames for the Red and Blue, in what had been described as a race between the two premier eights in the world.

After the historic win, the rowers and the coach would go on to have successful subsequent careers. Burk would remain as the coach until 1969, and Parker would go on to become one of Harvard’s most successful rowing coaches.

Though both passed away in recent years, they are, along with the others of the crew of 1955, immortalized in not only the history of Penn rowing, but in the history of the sport.

Penn basketball ugly stats: Part III

Another week, another pair of losses for Penn basketball. While these games were undeniably improvements from the double-digit defeats to Yale and Brown two weeks ago, they still provided a few ugly statistics that aren't for those with weak constitutions. Without further ado, here's the summary from yesterday.

  • For just the 2nd time in program history, Penn basketball has been swept in three Ivy doubleheaders in one season. The 1st time was last year.
  • Penn basketball has lost seven straight Ivy games, the worst streak in program history. Penn lost six straight to end 1956-57.
  • This is Penn basketball's worst ever start to Ivy play. The Quakers have never won fewer than three Ivy games in a season.
  • Penn basketball has lost four straight games to Brown. Before this year, Penn had never lost more than two straight to Brown.
  • Prior to 2010, Penn basketball had never finished under .500 in Ivy play in consecutive seasons. It has now happened twice.
  • Penn has been swept by Yale and Brown in consecutive seasons. Penn hadn't been swept by travel partners in two consecutive seasons ever.

Liveblog: Penn basketball (7-17, 2-8 Ivy) at Yale (20-8, 9-2)

It's an Ivy League worst-vs.-first matchup tonight and Penn basketball is on the wrong side of the ledger. Can the Quakers upset heavily-favored Yale? Join me and find out as I give you all the play-by-play and analysis:

Live Blog Penn basketball (7-17, 2-8 Ivy) at Yale (20-8, 9-2)

Liveblog: Penn basketball (7-16, 2-7 Ivy) vs. Brown (12-15, 3-7)

The Quakers have lost six of their last seven games and now kick off a tough road trip at Brown. Can Penn get it together? Or are the Red and Blue doomed to a dead-last finish in the Ivy League? Join me for all the play-by-play and analysis as we find out:

Live Blog Penn basketball (7-16, 2-7 Ivy) at Brown (12-15, 3-7)

Penn basketball's Nwokedi and Woods earn Rookie of the Week honors once again

Freshman Antonio Woods recently earned his third Rookie of the Week award of the season.


There’s a youth movement underway for Penn’s basketball programs.

Following standout weekends, freshmen Michelle Nwokedi and Antonio Woods notched Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards. It was Nwokedi’s fifth nod of the season and Woods’ third.

Nwokedi guided the women’s squad to a perfect weekend, averaging 12.5 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game as the Red and Blue logged a pair of home victories over Harvard and Dartmouth. Nwokedi was actually co-rookie of the week, sharing the honor with Columbia’s Camille Zimmerman.

The Texas native was particularly impressive against the Crimson on Friday, putting up 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in a 71-61 triumph. Nwokedi now has season averages of 8.1 points and 6.3 boards per game despite starting only five games and averaging just 16.1 minutes per contest.

The Rookie of the Week honor was Nwokedi’s fourth nod in the last five weeks.

Despite a disappointing weekend for the men’s squad, Woods was a bright spot in a pair of tough losses for Penn. Given extra playing time in the absence of suspended junior guard Tony Hicks, the Cincinnati native dropped a team-high 12 points in Friday’s loss to Harvard before adding 11 points and six assists the following night in Hanover.

Woods’ play has given the men’s squad optimism for the future as the Quakers find themselves in the Ancient Eight’s cellar. Despite underwhelming seasons from established veterans such as Hicks and junior center Darien Nelson-Henry, Woods has averaged 7.6 points per game — good for fourth on the team — and has totaled a team-high 74 assists.

Both rookie sensations will be back in action this weekend, as the men travel to Brown and Yale while the women play their final home games of the season against the Bears and Bulldogs.

This week in ugly Penn basketball statistics

-The Daily Pennsylvanian

Another week, another flip through the Penn basketball fact book to see how historically bad some of the team's losses have been. Spoiler Alert: Things have only gotten worse since last week. 

Liveblog: Penn basketball at Harvard

Welcome to snowy Cambridge, Mass. as Penn basketball takes on Harvard. The Quakers come in having lost three straight games and with leading scorer Tony Hicks suspended for this weekend's games. On the liveblog will be Kenny Kasper and Tom Nowlan.

Live Blog LIVEBLOG: Penn basketball at Harvard

Roundtable: What does Penn women's lacrosse need to do to repeat (again)?

Senior attack Tory Bensen will lead the Red and Blue offense into the 2015 season.


When the men of Penn lacrosse won the Ivy League championship last year, it came as a bit of a surprise. The same cannot be said of their female counterparts.

Penn women’s lacrosse is an Ancient Eight institution — they have won the past eight consecutive Ivy League regular season championships. It has gotten to the point where it would be more of a surprise if the team didn’t finish atop the conference than if they extended their streak to nine-straight titles.

As the highest ranked team in the Ivy League (No. 14 in the coaches’ poll), the Quakers look to be prepared to come out on top once again, but with Princeton just behind at No. 15, it won’t be a cake walk. So what do the Red and Blue need to do to make it nine-in-a-row?

Sports Editor Colin Henderson: Penn has always been known for its defensive prowess, and given some of the top-tier players the squad has returning on the backline, this season should be no different. However, if the Red and Blue want to repeat, they’ll need to hold their own on the offensive side of the ball as well.

The Quakers were by no means lacking — by most definitions of the word — on the attack last year, and with star attacks Tory Bensen and Nina Corcoran returning this year, the Quakers have a solid base of leadership up front. But in order to change their perception as a defensive-minded squad, the Red and Blue will need some other complementary players to chip in.

This help could come from a pair of veteran players — junior attack McKenzie Hunt and former Ivy Midfielder of the Year Shannon Mangini — coming back from injury. Or it could come from upstart attack Iris Williamson, who has impressed in practice thus far this year. But it needs to come from somewhere.

Associate Sports Editor Tommy Rothman: What? "In order to change their perception as a defensively-minded squad?" If I had won eight championships in a row, I certainly wouldn't be looking to change anything. If defense has actually won championships without fail since 2007, then defensively-minded it is. To put that date in perspective, the last time a team other than Penn won the Ivy title, "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" hadn't been released yet.

And the defense should once again be solid, led by reigning Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and preseason first-team All-American Meg Markham. Sure, it would help if the offense improved — and as Colin said, it's not like the offense was bad last year — but the onus is certainly not on the Quakers to make improvements. Penn just needs to keep up the status quo; it's the other seven teams in the Ancient Eight who need to bring about a change. If not, we should be discussing the possibility of a double-digit streak around this time next year.

Sports Editor Laine Higgins: For most of the Quakers’ roster winning is simply a habit. Not only have none of the current players on the Penn squad experienced a sub-.500 season, but none of the current players have experienced anything close to a sub-.500 conference record. Since 2012, the Red and Blue are 24-3 against Ivy foes. And with 11 players who started in 12 games or more in 2014 returning for the 2015 season, this year should be no different.

The veterans of women’s lacrosse are particularly impressive on the defensive side of the field, with Lax Magazine’s first-team All American Meg Markham leading the charge. The senior defense was unstoppable last year, taking home Ivy League defender of the year and IWLCA first-team All American honors.

Junior goalkeeper Lucy Ferguson and senior defense Taylor Foussadier have similarly impressive lists of accomplishments, each earning pre-season All American honorable mention nods by Inside Lacrosse. With such a loaded defensive lineup, Penn’s opponents should be trembling in their boots.

Penn women's basketball's Michelle Nwokedi takes home more awards

Freshman forward Michelle Nwokedi was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week on Monday, the third time in the past four weeks that the freshman has received such honors.


Whaddayaknow: she did it again.

Following a pair of solid road wins for Penn women’s basketball, rookie Michelle Nwokedi notched her fourth Ivy League rookie of the week nod of the season and third since the beginning of 2015 alone.

The freshman forward — starting for only the second and third times of the season, respectively — averaged 15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game in a pair of Red and Blue victories over Yale and Brown. Since taking over as a starter for senior guard Renee Busch, Nwokedi has scored in double digits three times, recording double-doubles each time.

The Missouri City, Texas, native has now earned the honor in three of the past four weeks. Her dominance in the paint has helped the Red in Blue win five of their seven conference games, a mark good enough for sole possession of second place in the Ancient Eight.

Nwokedi kicked off this past weekend by scoring a game-high 13 points in a comfortable 61-42 triumph over then-second-place Yale. The rookie followed that game up with a near triple-double in Providence, tallying 17 points, 10 boards and seven blocks in an 83-75 victory in against the Bears — the fifth straight contest in which she has scored over 10 points.

The freshman converted 83 percent of her free throws over the two-game stretch last weekend, a much-needed boost for a Penn squad that has converted only 66 percent of its shots from the charity stripe this season.

Now sporting an average of 7.7 points and 6.2 rebounds on the season, Nwokedi will look to stay in a groove as the Quakers welcome Harvard and Dartmouth to the Palestra this weekend.

Some ugly Penn basketball statistics

-The Daily Pennsylvanian

Spending Valentine's Day like everyone else, I took a stroll through Penn basketball's fact book. What came from that look through is not for the faint of heart. Here's some ugly looking stats coming straight from my Twitter account. 

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