• David A.F. Sweet

LFHS Sailors Ready for National Championship Quest

By David A. F. Sweet Lake Forest Sailing (LFS) offers instruction for all ages and skill levels and is nationally recognized and sanctioned as an accredited training center by U.S. Sailing. Will Howard knows the program well; he learned to sail thanks to Lake Forest Sailing when his family moved here in 2000. He started working for the program in 2015 and was named Sailing Director in 2017. With the Interscholastic Sailing Association Mallory Fleet Race National Championship coming up in Cleveland June 5-6 – where Lake Forest High School sailors trained by LFS will face prep schools such as St. George’s in Rhode Island and high schools as far away as California -- we reached out to speak with Will and get his insights.

How are the Lake Forest High School sailors looking as the National Championship beckons?

Our team for nationals is led by skippers Henry Scholz, Charlie Gish, Tristan McDonald and crews Paige Roby, Rachel Pogany and Mary Carter. Other sailors on our team who have been vital are Leo Kumar, Kyle McDonald, Michal Janowicz, Spencer Glickson, Alec and Matthew Ranker and many more teammates. While our team is exceptionally young for the success we’ve had thus far, I am confident they are all prepared to sail their best this weekend in Cleveland.

The Lake Forest High School Sailing team is ready to contend for a national championship. From left to right: Sailing Director Will Howard, Charlie Gish, Paige Roby, Rachel Pogany, Tristan McDonald, Mary Carter and Henry Scholz. The Sailing Scouts won the district fleet racing qualifier hosted on home waters at Lake Forest Sailing in April and then the Midwest qualifier in Cleveland to get this far. Fleet racing is typical sailboat racing; you use boat handling, boat speed, strategy and tactics to earn the best finish you can in each race, and you win by having the least total points at the end of the regatta. Scholastic fleet racing is more of a team sport because each team has two boats whose scores add together for a team total score.

What would you say sets the national championship contenders apart from other programs?

First, the size of the team and depth of talent. While some venues host many high schools and have more sailors than us, we probably have the deepest roster of talent in the Midwest. We have 25 highly competitive sailors at practice each day. This makes our practices more valuable and accelerates improvement.

Second, our coaching staff is top notch. We have been working with Steve Leuck now for several years. He is a recent graduate of College of Charleston and won the College Nationals with the Charleston Cougars. Steve joins us for training in between living in San Diego and traveling for sailing of his own. His coaching and commitment to our team is big reason for our success. We were also lucky to get Aisling Sullivan on the coaching staff this spring. Aisling hails from Chicago and is a top college sailor at Dartmouth University. Because of COVID-19, she was doing remote school this season and we took full advantage of her being back in Chicagoland. Aisling has empowered our crews to have obvious impact on results.

Third, our venue makes good sailors. Sailing on the unprotected waters of Lake Michigan builds tough humans. We were on the water in mid-March; we sail when it’s snowing and windy and when it’s hot and buggy. We get days with big waves, and we get days with flat water and crazy wind shifts. We are prepared for any regatta venue.

Simply put, this group of kids identified a goal (nationals) and worked harder than everyone else to accomplish the goal. On top of sailing these kids are all phenomenal students at LFHS, taking the hardest classes and getting great grades.

What's the biggest challenge as nationals approach for the team and for Lake Forest Sailing in general?

The biggest challenge for nationals is we face is just time on the water compared to West Coast and Southeast schools. They sail more days of the year than us.

The program as a whole faces a couple of challenges. The recent demand for sailing instruction (caused by COVID-19) paired with limited supply in our area has presented new challenges for us. We only have so many boats, certified instructors and sailable days on Lake Michigan. Our summer sailing school programs literally filled up in 20 minutes when registration opened in early March. While we are trying to add more programming, we are limited by space, time and instructors.

While we have great support from the City of Lake Forest and the Friends of Lake Forest Parks & Recreation Foundation, we rely heavily on donations and fees from our stakeholders. Sailing is an expensive sport and assets are expensive to acquire and maintain. Most all peer programs are supported by a yacht club with extensive membership and resources; we achieve the same results in youth sailing while running our program out of a shed at Forest Park Beach.

I hope to grow adult sailing, adaptive sailing and create even more opportunities for our youth racers to experience the other options sailboat racing has to offer. Our goal at Lake Forest Sailing is simply to get as many youths from our community out on Lake Michigan safely and to create an affinity for the sport and the lake.

Follow the Sailing Scouts at nationals here: https://scores.hssailing.org/s21/2021-issa-mallory-fleet-race-national/