On Your Mark. Get Set. Go! | Kent State University

On Your Mark. Get Set. Go!

In 1947, Kent State's Rowboat Regatta (almost) hit the big time when a Life photographer covered the popular event.

In this undated photo (not by the Life photographer) students prepare to launch the annual Rowboat Regatta. (Courtesy Special Collections & Archives)  

Kent State’s Rowboat Regatta—the brainchild of an unnamed student in a 1939 journalism class—was sponsored and staffed by the Kent Stater every spring from 1939 to 1969. 

Regatta Day typically began with a parade of cars heading to the site. The first competitions were held on the Cuyahoga River, but were later moved to Brady Lake, Hudson Springs Park and then Round-Up Lake. 

Sororities, fraternities and independent groups competed for trophies, and women with at least a 2.0 grade point average were eligible to try out for Regatta Queen. Rowers were required to pass a swimming test, but all students could enjoy the races and other contests, which over the years included relays, tug-of-war, frog-leaping, barrel-rolls and canoe jousts. 

In 1947, however, the popular event—meant to be a satire on Ivy League rowing championships—was swept into the spotlight. Life magazine telegrammed the Kent Stater that they were assigning a photographer to cover the event, and Akron radio station WAKR planned to broadcast a play-by-play. 

“We hope it is not growing too quickly,” wrote Kent Stater editor-in-chief Robert E. Hoyt in the May 14, 1947 issue. He noted that organizing the event was a tremendous amount of work done by very few people. “We’ve wondered if it could be possible that any difficulty could exist which has not presented itself.” 

The next week’s issue contained a letter from Merle “Wag” Wagoner, faculty manager of athletics and official starter for the Regatta, who wrote, “I am very sorry that the excessive delays in running the races caused some criticism. . . . It would be a darn shame to lose the event because of delays that could be overcome with a slight bit of planning.”

Although Life photographer George Skadding photographed the event, Life’s editors later wrote to say they would be unable to schedule the story, according to a June 24, 1947 Kent Stater article titled, “Life Sends Regrets.”

 Even so, current Kent Stater editors—maybe it’s time to revisit some version of this tradition?


Life photographer George Skadding snapped lots of photos of the 1947 Rowboat Regatta, sponsored by the Kent Stater—but, alas, they were never published in the magazine. But you can see some of them in our online gallery below! Doesn’t it look fun?