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Strong to the finish
For the past four years, Boston College’s best athletic team hasn’t been on the ice at Conte Forum or the turf at Alumni Stadium, but on the chilly waters of Dorchester Bay. Since September 2003, the University’s coed sailing team has been a fixture in Sailing World magazine’s College Racing Top 20, a streak that encompasses 55 straight polls and includes seven number one rankings and 27 appearances in the top five. In the last 11 years, the team has included 13 All-Americans and eight All-American honorable mentions. Pete Spaulding ’98 went on to place fifth in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In 2001, Tyler Pruett ’02 won the Everett B. Morris Trophy, sailing’s equivalent of football’s Heisman.
The University’s 41 sailors hail mainly from the Northeast but also from as far away as California and Bermuda. The team competes in multiple coed and women’s events (there is no men’s collegiate sailing) on most weekends between September and November and again between February and May. “We can send people off to several events on a given weekend with confidence that they’ll do well,” says co-captain Alyson Whitehead ’07.
According to Greg Wilkinson, who coaches the team with a calm attention to detail, collegiate sailing exists in a state of “pure amateurism.” Separate from the NCAA, it has its own governing body, the Intercollegiate Sailing Association of North America. Scholarships or other financial aid on the basis of sailing ability are forbidden. Smaller schools like St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Roger Williams University in Rhode Island compete—and succeed—alongside the likes of USC, Georgetown, and Boston College.
Nonetheless, sailing under the flag of a Division 1 athletic department offers advantages in terms of training facilities. Geography helps, too. New England (and Boston in particular) is a hotbed of college sailing, with schools like Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and Tufts continually producing competitive teams. “At any given time on a Thursday afternoon in the spring or fall, there are 15 or 20 All-Americans training within 10 miles of one another,” says Wilkinson. Neighborly scrimmages are as competitive as many regattas.
The ultimate goal of winning a national championship has so far been elusive. On May 23–25, the women are set to try again, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The coed team will race in the dinghy championship regatta at Annapolis, May 30–June 1.
Read more by Tim Czerwienski