Junior Racing in the Midwest

What kids did this summer...

by Gail Tilsner

"...'No Tears, No Protests Regatta' for the youngest Opti and X-Boat sailors..."

When many of my friends think about summer sports and kids, they automatically come up with baseball, soccer, etc. You might say, they get more than their fair share of attention. I am pleased to report that junior sailing programs across the midwest are alive and doing great!

The number of kids involved in junior sailing programs (traveling and home based ones) is growing, especially for the youngest age groups. Sailing programs for the intermediate to advanced are also experiencing growth. Many of these programs are the more exciting Lasers' and 420s'. The Midwest, which has had the reputation for being the "underdogs" in national sailing competitions, is currently smoking a lot of the competition, shocking the country by having finalists and championship finisher's in this summer's national events. Several coordinators attribute this success to the large size and stiff competition in regional events.

kids7.tif (1577466 bytes)Racing boats for the youngest sailors are generally the Optimist dinghy. The "opti" as it is called, is a single handed, single sail, safe, stable dinghy which the youngest sailors learn on. According to Walter Mendenhall, director of Okoboji Yacht Club (IA) sailing school, the Optimist fleet is the class to be watching. Across the nation, it is the boat of choice in beginning sailing programs.This is because the skipper is also the crew. Coordination of the tiller, sail, the reading of the wind are experienced together. The need to demonstrate skills right away speeds up the learning curve for these kids and gives them confidence from an early age. Julie Papenek, a 16 year old racing member of the Chicago Yacht Club, explains that learning on the Opti was extremely beneficial. Also beneficial, she says, was traveling to Optimist race events from a young age (as early as 9). Her confidence to go out on a long starting line grew with each race that she participated in. Julie is the Area K champion in the double handed Laser class for 1999. She also placed second at the Buzzard's Bay National Championship in Massachusetts this August.

The Inland Lakes Yachting Association (covering MN, WI, IL, MI, IA) commits itself to promoting sailing for kids. Diane Shernin, jr. coordinator at Geneva Lake (WI) sailing school, reports that kids in their sailing program sail in up to eight races a summer with the ILYA. For these events, they bring in an instructor for the morning and race in the afternoon. At this time there are 20 sailing schools affiliated with the ILYA. The ILYA recognizes the X-boat as the boat to sail after the Opti. It is a double-handed, stable, Inland Class boat for sailors ages12 to 16.

The Lake Michigan Racing Federation (LMRF) uses the optimist until age 15. After this, the mainstream boat of choice is the 420 or Laser which are sailed through college. Their affiliating yacht clubs are in Michigan and Illinois.

Ray Devorek, 20 year board member at the Chicago Yacht Club, says the decisions made by clubs to support various fleets or particular events are based upon the needs and goals of its own area. Every club, no matter where it is in the midwest, will appeal to its own sailing constituency. Some are able to support programs 8 months of the year while some have a much shorter season to offer sailing. Each region in the midwest is unique and attempts to provide what it can support. He does say that numbers support the claim that Junior sailing "has continued healthy". The Buzzard's Bay Regatta had 175 420's at the starting line. The North American Championships in Hampton, Virginia held their event for 300 Optimist's. The Cork Youth Festival (Canadian Olympic Regatta; Kingston, Ontario) reports 75 Laser 2's for 1999. Mike Devorek is the single handed Laser champion from Chicago Yacht Club for 1999. He has participated in races all over the world and hopes to stay involved in racing at college. His brother Kevin is currently participating at the Cork Festival.

The Cedar Lake Yacht Club (WI) hosted a home series of races for kids in August. They held a "No Tears , No Protests Regatta" for thekidsrace 3.tif (932856 bytes) youngest Opti and X-boat sailors. Races start with horns (not guns), protesting is not allowed, and coaching is permitted for the Optimist racers. This beginning racing series had 119 participants over two days. Winn Eckert, the Junior Coordinator at the Cedar Lake Yacht Club, explains: " the goal is to keep pressure off, encourage having fun , and involve as many kids as it can hold. The more advanced races, starting at age 10, come when kids enter Invitational events. These require proof of past sucess at previous club events.

The Detroit Regional Yachting Association (DRYA) also promotes kids and sailing. Six area yacht clubs participate in five junior race days with a different club hosting each one. Kids have a chance to participate in as many events as possible close to home. The enjoyment and success at this level of competition hopefully creates a path for them to broaden their horizons. The single handed boats sailed are Optis and Lasers. The double-handed boats are the flying juniors (FJ's) and 420's'. "Interest in the Optimist program here is very strong. Lasers, FJ's and 420's are steady in growth, said Adam Hollerbach, coach at the Bayview Yacht Club (Detroit). He is seeing kids grow up with sailing." The 1999 graduates are the same kids who started out racing Optimists. By staying in the program, these kids have had opportunities to travel, to compete on a national level, to foster friendships and experiences they will have for a lifetime. Besides, says Adam, "it beats mowing lawns." Fifteen junior racers from Bayview participated in the Buzzard's Bay Regatta with finisher's in the top 5 of 100 (420 fleet). These kids sail next to collegiate and Junior Olympic Gold Medalists. One of Bayview's junior racers is currently in Hawaii for the Youth Nationals Championship.

Geneva Lake Sailing School is committed to building a strong race program. They have hired a full time director to make the program grow for them. The X-Invitational Regatta they host (July) involves 64 participants. This is up from 40 last year. Kids participated in good spirits. They were eager to get down to racing.

The Grand Rapids Yacht Club (MI) continues to see enthusiasm grow for its junior program. They host ed the National Butterfly Champions in August. More than 20 boats were at the starting line. The Butterfly is a 12 foot scow. It is a single sail, single handed boat. From these boats, kids can move up in the fleet to race an MC scow, Rebel, or Snipe. The Butterfly is an inland class boat. Martha Johnson, junior coordinator of the Grand Rapids sailing program, saw 100 kids go through the program this year. She gives credit to an active club membership that takes the kids out to race as often as possible and on as many different classes of boats as possible. Their program encourages kids to have a diverse sailing experience. They believe this teaches flexibility in learning that can lead to a broader based sailing experience. Having high school and college kids teaching other kids is a great way to promote sailing. Knowing that their instructors have achieved at the high school or college level speaks well of what's possible for the young people who persevere.

The USA Junior Olympic Sailing Festival for the midwest was held on Lake Minnetonka in June. It was hosted by the Wayzata Yacht Club. Opti's were represented in large numbers.There were several short races like the T-1, and W-2 for Opti's, as well as races for the X-boaters, 420's and Lasers. Sailors came from Lake Geneva, Clear Lake, Columbia Yacht Club and many, many others in the midwest.

Yacht clubs are also trying to keep up with the growth in Junior Sailing in the Midwest. Many if not most have weekly race events that includekids5.tif (1710726 bytes) junior classes of boats so that the youngest sailors can skipper their own boat , where previously many were limited to crewing on bigger boats. Additional junior fleet boats are being added to accommodate the heightened interest in junior racing. At least once a week, sometimes twice, there is the chance for the youngest sailor to get out their Opti or X-boat and practice skills or strategies they learn in their junior sailing programs during the summer. The clubs also provide recognition for their Junior sailors at their annual banquets which have achievement awards for all family members. The support the kids receive at home should prove beneficial as they continue to grow with sailing throughout their lives.

The Twin Cities Youth Sailing Program organizes four to five local events a summer from June to August. They are a home series that includes participation from kids at the Lake Minnetonka, Wayzata, White Bear and Lake Calhoun sailing schools. The boats raced in these events are the Optimists, Laser Radial, Laser, and 420. For the past four years the Twin Cities has benefitted from the devotion of a group of junior sailing parents. Their original purpose was to find a way to provide more opportunities for kids from smaller yacht clubs to race in larger groups. They also wanted to make the program user friendly to new parents. They did this by organizing a home series of races that could take place at Twin Cities sailing schools on Lake Minnetonka, White Bear and Lake Calhoun. Four years later, they have expanded to help organize events for 420, and Laser racers. Pat Dunsworth, on the board of White Bear sailing school, continues to be involved with the program. He is one of its founders and has two children who are racers. Junior races are "bring your own boat" events. This means parents have to own or lease a boat and be able to transport it. The sailing schools help with transportation. The Twin Cities Youth Sailing program helps parents find out how and when all this happens. This is especially helpful to parents who are experiencing sailing for the first time through their kids. Travel to out-of-town races is enhanced by the hospitality of the hosting community. A family will be the guest of a host family and another time be that same family's host. From year to year, many of the same families return for race events. Kids know they will see their friends from last year, parents will see familiar faces. Its a good way to promote sailing. Kids know once they make a friend they can count on seeing them again, even if its only once a year. This leads to special friendships.

In the fall, at the completion of the sailing season, parents and school staff meet to evaluate the season just past. Parents often volunteer to be on committees at their school or yacht club. The purpose is multi-fold.

Questions such as: Did the junior racing program provide enough instruction or practice race time for its racers? Were there adequate rewards or incentives for all participants, as well as trophies of distinction for finalists? Did summer campers "catch" the excitement from racers?

Cappy Capper, year round director for Lake Minnetonka Sailing School, sees positive things happening for kids. They have fun, learn to sail, and they have the chance to go beyond the introductory level if they wish. He can help prepare the racer with loftier goals to "reach for the stars". When I talked to him, he was preparing to travel with a junior racer at the school to participate in the Youth Nationals Championship in Hawaii.

There are many opportunities for kids to be involved in sailing today. There are many programs to choose from. We, in the midwest, are lucky. In spite of our limited sailing season we choose and continue to keep up with the growth and excitement of junior sailing that exists around the country. We have not lost out. In fact, if we continue with the success we are having, others will be hard pressed to call us the "underdogs" of junior sailing. Good luck to everyone and keep sailing!

For more information about junior sailing in these areas contact the following people:

Martha Johnson, Grand Rapids Yacht Club, 616-949-0221; Diane Shernin, Lake Geneva Sailing School, 414-275-5722; Adam Hollerbach, Bayview Yacht Club, 313-822-5810; Walter Mendenhall, Okoboji Yacht Club, 712-332-2900; Cappy Capper, Lake Minnetonka Sailing School, 612-404-1645; Pat Dunsworth, Twin Cities Youth Optimist Program, 612-544-8941; Winn Eckert, Cedar Lake Yacht Club, 608-833-1336, Chris Mitchell, Chicago Yacht Club, 773-477-6951.

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