Sailing team finds itself in new waters

The University’s newest varsity sports team’s playing field is the Potomac River.

The sailing team’s members pile into vans, arriving at their boathouse to pull on layers of gear, zipping themselves into buff and blue life jackets with “Colonials” emblazoned across the front. They work to pull the boats into the water, before pairing off to climb in and push off from the docks into the open river.

It was the team’s dedication to conference success that drew notice from the upper echelon of the University’s athletic department, prompting athletic director Patrick Nero to announce last Friday that the sailing team will officially become the University’s 23rd varsity program next fall.

“We can focus on sailing now,” sailing club president junior Richard Sant, Jr. said. “The University assumes a lot of the responsibilities that the student leadership has been taking care of over the past few years.”

It was easy to chart the team’s rise. In 2008, it won the Colony Cup. From 2009-2011, GW advanced to the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association Fall and Spring Championships – a significant achievement for a club program.

Former club sailing president Will Ricketson said the team began to push for varsity status in the winter of 2010, using its recent accomplishments as a strong selling point. Ricketson initially submitted a proposal for varsity status then, at the invitation of Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak. At the time, the athletic department decided to increase the team’s funding, and revisit the varsity proposal in a year.

So in 2011, Ricketson again submitted a formal proposal for varsity status to then-athletic director Jack Kvancz just before the administrator left his post in July. But amidst the frenzy that followed Kvancz’s departure, Ricketson said adding another varsity team was low on the radar.

When Nero was firmly established in office Ricketson re-submitted the proposal. Despite graduating, the former sailing president was determined to continue to work to promote his club to varsity status, and found a willing partner in the athletic department’s new leadership.

“They saw that they had a club sports team in the sailing team that was already competitive on a varsity level and really doing well to promote the GW brand around the country,” Ricketson said.

The decision to bring sailing onboard as a varsity program was easy, Nero said. Members of the club team met with Nero about transitioning the team from club to varsity status, convinced the added benefits of reclassification would push the team’s competitive edge to the next level.

An opportunity to provide successful student athletes with additional resources was one he could ill afford to pass up, Nero said.

“The decision to transition our sailing program from a club sport to our 23rd varsity sport was made easy by the fact that our primary competition in sailing has always largely been other schools’ varsity sailing programs. We are always looking for ways to provide GW students with additional opportunities,” Nero said. “It made sense to provide the coed sailing team with the opportunity to compete on the varsity level among the best that collegiate sailing has to offer.”

When the sailing team officially competes as a varsity program next fall, it will be held to the same standards as the rest of the athletic department, including maintaining a mandatory 2.0 GPA.

The move comes with significant benefits, as well. The addition of a coach to the team’s roster will be a major change resulting from the transition to varsity status. The Colonials’ new leader has yet to be named, but receiving guidance from a coach has long been a priority for the team, Sant said.

The team will also have priority registration for classes around its practice and competition schedules, which will help keep consistency on the roster, according to Sant. Above all, the Colonials feel the promotion will enable them to focus more on their sport, instead of fundraising, maintaining boats and finding transportation to regattas.

“I don’t want to speak too soon,” Sant said, “but I think we’re going to be really successful.”

Elizabeth Traynor contributed to this report.

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