David Wetherill who attended the Cape May reunion figured prominently in a June, 1971 Sports Illustrated Magazine article which featured a Cornell rowing team. David was on the team as a Cornell student and participated in a miraculous win.
June 28, 1971
Cornell Fishes Out A Big One At Last
Hugh D. Whall
One of the most hopeful words in sport, albeit one that tends to stick like a frog in the throats of nonrowing Americans, is the noun repechage. It derives from the French repechage, which literally means re-fish but is more commonly used to denote rescue. In rowing it is the name of a heat which provides a second chance for boats that struck out the first time up.
Needless to say. crews gaining the finals of a regatta by the repechage route are usually longshots. But rarely has there been a shot longer than Cornell's heavyweight eight when it went re-refishing in last Saturday's IRA at Syracuse, N.Y.—the collegiate championship—and possibly never such heartfelt jubilation at an IRA as when those red-shirted young men collapsed over their oars at the finish. Cornell's victory was the first by a repechage eight in the 76-year history of the event.
So weak was Cornell in the general estimation that only the Big Red's new coach, Todd Jesdale, gave the boat any chance. In one configuration or another—Jesdale had been shaking the boat up all season—it had been beaten by nearly everybody on the East Coast. It was rather a gallant gesture for the Big Red to show up at all, worth a tip of the cap if only in tribute to Cornell's once-dominant role in the IRA. The Big Red had won more championships than any other school, but all that was ancient history.
The experts preferred Washington, the defending champion and winner of the Western Sprints, an eight notable both for its ungainly starts and powerhouse finishes. They also liked Navy, the top Eastern crew of the year and loser of only one collegiate race—and that to Princeton in the season opener. And they found something to say for Penn, which had gained cohesion after a fitful season and had provided four men for the eight that won the American Henley Regatta on Lake George.
Except for Navy these rivals were in first-rate condition. Navy was tired. In what seems to have been a blunder, so far as his chances in the IRA were concerned, Coach Carl Ullrich had taken his crew to Europe for a taste of Continental rowing in the days just before. A plane foul-up brought Navy into Syracuse only a few hours prior to Thursday's first heat. The crew had gone 23 hours without sleep.
Came those first preliminaries, which put winners directly into the finals, and Navy died, finishing third behind Penn and Brown. Washington won its heat, but poor Cornell did even worse than Navy, straggling in last in that same race. Repechaging manfully the next day, Cornell defeated Dartmouth, Northeastern, Wisconsin and California. A worthy effort, yes, but surely nothing to perturb a Washington or a Penn; these were nonpowers all. Navy woke up and won its repechage, too; the Middies clearly had untapped resources of grit and stamina.
Saturday arrived steamy hot but with a gentle quartering wind to give the 12,000 spectators at Onondaga Lake some relief, and as the eights boiled away Washington wobbled off in a typically poor start. Penn and Cornell got away strongly. Only a matter of moments until the Big Red burns out, thought the experts. But, ah, at the 500-meter mark on the 2,000-meter course Cornell had a nice little lead, with Penn second and Rutgers (!) third. Just before the halfway point, where some slaphappy swimmers had paddled out to watch the boats sweep past, Cornell still had the lead, now by a full length, but Washington was beginning to make its move. The trouble was, Washington was making its move from a long way back in fourth place.
Now all six crews began to sprint. Washington gave all the kick it had and caught boat after boat, but Cornell rowed with power and poise. The astounded spectators thus saw the Big Red defeat the Huskies by a solid quarter-boat length. At first even Cornell's stroke, David Wetherill, looked about in disbelief. It was the biggest rowing upset in many, many years.
Old oars will shuffle along countless banks in years to come, rehashing the elements of victory. Todd Jesdale! As recently as a month ago he had plucked his varsity stroke from his third boat. David Wetherill! A farm boy from Downingtown, Pa. and at 175 pounds one of the lightest strokes in any big regatta.
Under Jesdale, Cornell had acquired a neat balance between Husky power and Penn smoothness. Jesdale is a former lightweight Cornell oarsman who never made it beyond the junior varsity boat, and though Cornell last won the IRA in 1963 he has inherited a considerable rowing tradition. In its finest days—and some not so successful—the Big Red was coached by Harrison (Stork) Sanford, a man known for his wisdom, benevolence, teaching skill and the size of his shoes. The prospect of filling them when Sanford retired last year did not rattle Jesdale—either then or last week.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "my stroke knew we could win all along, and I did, too." He might have added that, had he spread this around before the IRA final, nobody would have believed him; Cornell had lost five of its last six races.
Like most rowing coaches nowadays, Jesdale teaches a relatively low rate of strokes, sacrificing "speed" for power. A new Stampfli shell also may have had something to do with Cornell's unlikely victory.
"We got a good start for a change," said Jesdale, manipulating a beer can he had been creasing for hours. "That's right," agreed Coxswain Jeffrey Cornett, "and we made it stand up."
As Jesdale walked rather dazedly about the boathouse, someone asked his age. He turned to his wife. "Let's see, I'm not sure. Honey, how old am I?" Mrs. Jesdale gave the question some thought. "I guess you're about 31," she finally said.
After the race a newspaperman said to Wetherill, "Dave, would you mind answering a few questions?"
"I don't know," replied Wetherill. "This is the first time a writer ever asked me any."
Trying a little repechage of its own, the press learned that Wetherill is 25, has served in the Marines and is a student of agricultural science.
Some farmer. Some boat race.
Coach Vic Michalson of Brown, whose eight finished fourth ahead of Rutgers and a Navy crew that had borrowed too heavily on its grit, came by to slap Jesdale on the back. "Sorry we couldn't all win," said Jesdale, sounding as if he did so every week.
Photos of the Cape May Reunion
L-R Marietta Eaton, Harvey Leake, Susan Wetherill, Biff Wetherill.
Bottom L-R Susan Wetherill, Edward 'Ted' Wetherill, Sidney
Herkness Wetherill, Yelena Wetherill, Anne 'Tocky' Wetherill
2nd row L-R Marietta Eaton, Marge Wetherill, Alida Isabella
Wetherill, Liberty Wetherill, Shawn Wetherill.
3rd row L-R Wayne Wetherill, Benjamin Wetherill, Wendy
Wetherill, Bonnie Wetherill.
Last row L-R Harvey Leake, Rulon Wetherill, David Wetherill,
Harrison 'Biff' Wetherill
Photo by Tocky'Wetherill