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College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east
Team McLube


The Publisher

Sep 18, 2011, 3:27 PM

Post #1 of 11 (28681 views)
College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east Log-In to Post/Reply

The strength of college competition in the U.S. has always been to the east. There have been a few exceptions over the years, but not many. And since the Fowle Trophy was first awarded in 1972 to recognize the team with the best overall performance among the various national championships, 39 of the 40 winners have come from schools between South Carolina and Massachusetts.

This trend is in part due to the support provided by eastern schools. Better funding leads to better facilities, which are often located near campus. Large fleets of boats leads to large teams, which makes for great practices. But with this comes a price...winter.

So for years there remained some balance, with schools from the west coast and gulf region remaining competitive. But as competition has heightened among junior sailing, the pursuit of superior sailing programs has caused a tilt of talent to the east.

There are seven districts that comprise the
Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA), and the water well is full in a couple regions while a drought is invading the others. Here are comments on the trend that were posted on the ICSA mailing list:

Blake Middleton, Former Head Coach - Stanford University:
I've followed (on an inconsistent basis) the regular college rankings lists in the past 15 or so years. I was one of the three coaches (along with Gary Bodie & Ken Legler) who did the rankings for Sailing World for about 7 years back in the late 80s to early 90s.

One of the biggest problems (to my eyes) with college sailing in recent years is the continued slide of competitive depth almost completely towards the New England and Mid Atlantic districts. With the exception of a few select South Atlantic and Pacific Coast teams, the rest of the country has been ignored, and the incentive for high school sailors who are serious about being involved at the highest levels has been diverted almost exclusively to the EAST coast only.

In my humble opinion, it's way past time for the entire ICSA to work on behalf of the greater good to help spread the wealth. The entire ICSA will grow healthier if we all work to grow together. What can the ICSA do to help the Midwest? The Northwest? The Southeast? I'll step down now off the soap box.

Ken Legler, Head Coach - Tufts University:
I hear Blake's frustration which represents the feelings of many, I'm sure. I have a counter argument that Blake will probably not like. Perhaps the geographical polarization of college sailing to the coast and Northeast in particular is a good thing. We have at least as many good teams as we did before the Midwest talent was recruited East, but they are closer together for shorter travel and more racing.

While club teams in the Midwest have lost home state talent, many emerging teams in the East have gone from small club teams to powerhouses over the last twenty years. They include Georgetown, Hobart/WS, Roger Williams, and Boston College. Then there are the more recent small Eastern teams which get unbelievable competition near home including UConn, Fordham, Columbia, Providence, Salve Regina, George Washington, etc, etc. Imagine if we were more spread out, say one powerhouse per state including Arizona, Montana, Indiana, Tennessee, Oregon, etc.

The Midwest and other conferences have had some great teams over the years and it is sad to see the nearby talent recruited away. But what is ISCA to do? Hire coaches for all club team conferences? Mandate very expensive travel for teams with limited travel budgets? That would eliminate far more sailing than it would create.

The increased competition for our team here at Tufts means less trips to Nationals, less conference championships, less trophies. At the same time we get fantastic competition, even at the third string level at 18 New England district venues with professional race management. In short college racing is at a higher level (more teams at minors and better teams in every regatta) than when it was more spread out.

The Publisher

Sep 18, 2011, 3:28 PM

Post #2 of 11 (28673 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Posted on the ICSA mailing list:

The one thing I think about when seeing the strong districts get stronger is the transfer of sailors away from the areas where they grew up. There is a significant investment in youth sailing at the local level, and I suspect there is a hope that some of the sailors will stick around and be the next generation to contribute to the local sailing scene. My guess is the odds are better for some one to continue sailing in their local area after college if the school is closer rather than farther from that area. Comments.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

The Publisher

Sep 18, 2011, 3:30 PM

Post #3 of 11 (28672 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Posted on the ICSA mailing list:

As a past chair of the Youth Council of US Sailing and a parent of a college sailor I would like to weigh in.

First on sailors migrating to the eastern schools Ken is on the right track with the ease of travel and venues. Keeping in mind that there are students traveling every weekend all fall and all spring. This takes a great toll on them, academically, physically, and socially. This is exaggerated for sailors traveling the greater distances. The concentration of the talent pool only helps to increase the level of competition, and that is what the most talented sailors want. This is the same for the west and Gulf coast regions where the seasons are extended. It is a time on the water thing.

There are climate issues. Perhaps some of the Midwest schools could consider ice-boating as an attraction. (Can you say extreme sport) That also goes for the northern & New England teams as well. I would be happy to help organize an ICSA Midwinter Hard Water Champs. Yikes! I hope this doesn't get out.

From the perspective of someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time devoted to youth sailing I am so pleased we are having the discussion of eastern teams recruiting sailors away from the Midwest and not "how come we can't muster enough sailors to field a team".

The facts are there are more kids in the pool than ever before. The talent, the coaching, and the race management is as good as it has ever been. This is a credit to those involved at all levels. Having been a parent of a college sailor for the past three seasons I am very impressed with the ICSA. This organization has done a great job of organizing our sport for intercollegiate competition.

Roger Baker

The Publisher

Sep 18, 2011, 3:31 PM

Post #4 of 11 (28671 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Posted on the ICSA mailing list:

It is exactly this sort of insular self-serving logic espoused by NEISA and MAISA representitives that ensures college sailing remains an exclusive nitch sport centered in the NE United States. Really, Ken's argument boils down to this: "schools in any regions other than NEISA and MAISA don't have enough good sailors, and are just too far apart to support good competition, so it is only right that NEISA and MAISA steal away the cream of their sailing talent, else those poor athletes are forced to languish in such terrible places to sail."

It is great that NE'ers take so much pride in their venue, but this logic supports a self-sustaining status-quo that is to NESA and MAISA's benefit and everyone else's detriment. As long as NEISA and MAISA continue to steal away all the talent, their districts will be more attractive places to compete, and so by Ken's logic it is only right that they continue to steal away the talent. The inevitable conclusion is that NEISA and MAISA should have the most talent, the most teams, and the best competition forever.

As I type this from my location in Tampa, FL, I can think of nine colleges and universities within a two hour drive from here (Eckerd, USF, UF, Rollins, UCF, NewCollege, SPC, StateCollegeFL, FGCU), all with excellent access to great sailing venues. No snow down here in FL. All we're missing are the sailors. So why is it ordained that the only place really suited to college sailing is the North East?

I have a very simple suggestion on what ICSA can do to help College sailing in the United States at large: ICSA can vote to allow colleges and universities to offer sailing based financial scholarships to athletes.

With this vote publically funded institutions will suddenly be able to attract talented freshman sailors who desperately need financial assistance to attend college, and additionally, financial scholarships will attract many new athletes to the sport! (As anyone who has coached youth sailing will attest: how many times have coaches been asked by potential new sailor-recruits if there are college scholarships for sailing, only to witness the recruit's disappointment and fading interest when we reply in the negative?)

Sadly, ICSA voting is dominated by NESA and MAISA representatives, who, along with a scattering of representatives from privately funded schools in other regions, refuse to even entertain a vote on financial scholarships. And thereby perpetuate their dominance of the nitchy exclusive sport of college sailing.

As was said earlier in this thread- despite NEISA and MAISA's overwhelming success at recruiting talent away from everywhere else in the country, this has not completely squelched the rise of college sailing in the rest of the United States. There will come the day when college sailing is popular enough in SEISA, SAISA, MCSA, NWICSA, and PCCSC, for ICSA to gain enough representatives from these regions to break the dominance of the North East on this truly great sport, and institute structural changes that will further the growth of college sailing in ALL regions of the United States.

It is sad to see that NEISA and MAISA representatives continue to employ skewed logic that postpones this day, and resists the popularization of college sailing across the country.

Andrew Sumpton


Sep 19, 2011, 1:30 AM

Post #5 of 11 (28563 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have to agree that there seems to be this transfer of sailors. Over the years I have formed the impression that the East Coast colleges attract, as a matter of policy or not, the top junior sailors.

As part of a wider study of possible dropout among the best USA Optimist sailors I have tracked the members of the US Optimist national training squads 1996-2002. Of the 179 sailors involved I can trace 110 (61%) who participated in collegiate sailing. And of those 110 over half attended just nine colleges as follows:

Navy 10, St. Mary's 8, Boston 6, Charleston 6, Harvard 6, Tufts 6, Dartmouth 5, Stanford 5, South Florida 5

This seems to show a strong correlation with the most successful collegiate teams.

So do these colleges seek to attract sailors with a good Optimist (Under-16) track record? Or do the sailors gravitate towards colleges with strong sailing programs?

Kent Fox

Sep 19, 2011, 8:38 AM

Post #6 of 11 (28458 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

As a long-time resident of South Florida I am often asked why my son chose to attend the University of Wisconsin. They are absolutely dumbfounded when I respond, “because of sailing.” The problem with most collegiate sailing programs in the Midwest, including UW-Madison, is that they fail to communicate the positive aspects of what their university has to offer to student athletes who sail.

The University of Chicago, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Wisconsin all boast top-50 rankings by U.S. News and World Report. Many Midwestern universities offer a college-town experience like few others and a culture of genuine kindness that is often difficult to find in other parts of the country. Wisconsin even boasts an on-campus sailing venue and a sailing center literally inside the school’s student union.

However, very little of this is used to promote the sailing programs at these schools. My son arrived at the idea of sailing in Madison primarily on his own. He knew that an elite sailor had chosen Wisconsin the year before, and his college counselor advised him of the merits of four years in Madison both academically and socially. UW has been fortunate that so many of the talented sailors who decided to remain in the Midwest have decided to attend Wisconsin. Their current ranking and recent performances prove they can compete with the schools in the East.

The idea that assistance should come from the ICSA to help teams in certain districts is ridiculous. And the concept of sailing scholarships, although appealing to a father of a sailor in high school, would accomplish the exact opposite of the claim ”leveling the playing field.” It would in fact increase the gap between the haves and have-nots. Very few, if any, MCSA, SEISA, and NWICSA universities would be in a position to offer sailing scholarships. The only schools that would consider such aid would be the larger varsity programs in the East and possibly Stanford.

The bottom line is that more individuals who want to see the collegiate sailing programs in the Midwest and other non-East coast districts succeed need to help promote them and the extraordinary college experience these institutions have to offer.


Sep 19, 2011, 10:50 AM

Post #7 of 11 (28418 views)
Re: [Kent Fox] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have to agree with Kent on this one, regarding the use of scholarships and that they would primarily benefit the larger schools that already have grips on the talent pool. I sailed at both Coast Guard Academy and U. of New Orleans, and even tried to run the program at UNO for a few years. I truly believe that most of the schools in SEISA have no support for their sailing teams, and it is entirely up to the students/sailors to promote the team, recruit sailors, fund raise, coach themselves, etc.

I sailed for UNO in 2001-2004 and there was no support or money to be had from the school. Now fast forward to current times when many schools are losing funding. The possibility of funding new sports programs is very slim. I dare say that it appears the current state of the team at UNO is inactive, or very close to it. With purely student driven organizations the infrastructure simply isn't in place to maintain for long periods after the motivated and organized students graduate. It is very difficult to maintain and pass the torch in these types of programs.

I know ICSA doesn't have money to fund programs across the country, but if it did I think that a far greater use of funds would be for coaches and dedicated staff and/or facility fees (boats, storage, etc.) This would allow the program to grow, maintain some level of consistency, and bring in more sailors. Perhaps some sort of subsidy to a school for a coach's salary on a time limited basis.

Sailing in NEISA was the best time of my sailing career. I would not say that I was recruited by CGA. Rather, I sought to go there based on my choice of major (Naval Architecture has a very limited choice of schools.) The sailing team was a bonus to me, and it was actually the coaches that persuaded admissions to accept me. I would have rather stayed in my home waters of Tampa Bay if that were a possible option.

You also cannot discount the fact of geographical convenience in the Northeast. When you can drive a couple hours on friday afternoon and sail both Saturday and Sunday, it really does not compare to 15 hours driving one way to get to a regatta. Skip classes Friday, drive all day Sunday, and you've spent more time driving than sailing, this is never fun.

Sail Fast,
Justin Iserhardt
UNO Alum, 2005.


Sep 19, 2011, 6:08 PM

Post #8 of 11 (28353 views)
Re: [Kent Fox] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In Reply To
As a long-time resident of South Florida I am often asked why my son chose to attend the University of Wisconsin. They are absolutely dumbfounded when I respond, “because of sailing.” The problem with most collegiate sailing programs in the Midwest, including UW-Madison, is that they fail to communicate the positive aspects of what their university has to offer to student athletes who sail.


Wisconsin has a low profile because we're midwesterners and don't brag like them yankees.

Wisconsin not only has had one of the largest collegiate fleets in the US. it has produced a gold & silver medalist (in Peter Barrett), both Harken brothers (who got their start building boats for Hoofers), and four of us were finalists in the International 470 class in 1976. Others have done pretty well, too.

The problem (if it is a problem) is that sailing is a club sport @ Wisconsin, and one has to join the club in order to race. Nobody subsidizes it except the members of Hoofers Club themselves.

There's one other problem, and that is winter. The lake grows up to a yard of ice by January and I'm here to tell you that it gets uncomfortable having to pour hot water down bilgeboard trunks to free the boards up in November.

The Publisher

Sep 20, 2011, 10:58 AM

Post #9 of 11 (28225 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Matt Younkle:
Just read your post about the continued strength of college sailing programs on the east coast, but thought I'd point out that the University of Wisconsin - Madison placed 1st in the Harry Anderson Intersectional Regatta at Yale last weekend:

As far as I know, it's the first time ever that an MCSA team has finished first in an out-of-district intersectional regatta. College sailing in the Midwest still has a long way to go, but that's a solid start!

The Publisher

Sep 21, 2011, 8:12 AM

Post #10 of 11 (28171 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Bruce Nelson, University of Michigan (1975):
Congratulations to the Wisconsin Hoofers Sailing Team for winning the Harry Anderson Intersectional at Yale last weekend, which is indeed a rare and stunning achievement for a team from the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association (MCSA).

Wisconsin clearly has a very talented team and an outstanding on-campus sailing venue on Lake Mendota with a wide variety of boats and great competition - amongst the best in the country. As a past MCSA sailor (and commodore), it is always gratifying to see the district perform well in intersectional competition and carry forward its great tradition which, for the record, does include some previous out-of-district intersectional regatta victories.

Long-serving MCSA officer George Griswold is probably the best source for such historical records, but I do recall MCSA team victories at the Kennedy Cup and Trux Umsted intersectional regattas at Navy (Michigan 1973 and 1975), and the ICSA Sloop Championships in California (Michigan 1972). Also, back then the Walter Wood Team Racing Trophy was a competition amongst districts, rather than individual school teams, and the MCSA team won in California in 1972, and again in 1975 in Chicago… technically not an out-of-district event but nonetheless it was an exciting win at the time.

I would be surprised if some of the other MCSA powers from that era and before, including Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio Wesleyan and others, had not won an intersectional regatta or two… nonetheless, congratulations to Wisconsin for re-starting the tradition!

From Wes Oliver:
The Intercollegiate sailing dynamic is complex, and happens to favor the Northeast in some ways. A point not yet highlighted is the difference between university supported Varsity teams and unsupported club teams.

I suspect there are more varsity sailing programs in the Northeast than anywhere else in the country. Some very good sailors, even from the northeast, choose Midwest schools for the education value et al, but sailing in the Midwest doesn't rank high as a varsity sport.

Average travel time is something like 6-7 hours each way for the U Michigan team to travel to Wisco (Wisconsin-Madison) for a regatta. This weekend they will drive 14 hours each way to race at Tufts, and in 2 weeks 11 hours each way for the IOR at Larchmont.

The only university support they get is the ability to rent University vans for the trip. All that and manage their studies (we hope). No coaches, small practice site, but very dedicated sailors from Michigan, Indiana, Connecticut and even Kansas. Kudos to those sailors outside the northeast who compete wherever they can!

The Publisher

Sep 23, 2011, 7:52 AM

Post #11 of 11 (28121 views)
Re: [The Publisher] College sailing - the tilt of talent to the east [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Rick Sullivan (Rochester, NY):
Regarding the challenges that exist for some of the college programs, I do understand that travel and support of the program is a difficult obstacle to overcome. We here in Upstate New York are used to these hurtles and programs like HWS and Cornell have been able to travel a minimum of 6-8 hours each weekend to attend regattas and become some of the top teams in the nation with HWS winning national championships on several occasions. It does take a lot of persistence and alumni support as Scott Ikle (HWS 1984) could tell you. So don't give up.

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