Sailing to go varsity after years of trying

The Yale Corporation voted to make sailing a varsity sport during its weekend meeting, sources affiliated with the sailing program said.

Yale President Richard Levin will announce today that the longtime club sport will be elevated to varsity status as early as this spring, sources said.

“This is going to be the greatest thing that’s happened to the Yale sailing team since its inception and the building of a yacht club,” said Michael Renda ’04, the commodore of the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club.

Levin declined to comment.

The sailing team has been considering becoming a varsity program for several years, but sources said a large gift this fall accelerated the administration’s decision to grant it varsity status. Renda said the gift was from an anonymous donor and confirmed that it was at least $1 million.

“We are lucky,” said Sunny Larson ’03, the captain of the women’s racing team. “We have won national championships and we do have a very supportive alumni body. That definitely helped us in what we were looking for.”

The gift could potentially be used to renovate the yacht club, which serves as a home to the team’s equipment and some of the sailors.

One of the major boons of attaining varsity status will be the ability to retain a quality coach, Larson said. Since the Department of Athletics can offer a more competitive salary, liability protection and increased benefits than a club sport can afford, Larson said the sailing team can keep “someone of the caliber of” Zachary Leonard, the team’s current coach.

Although the sailing team has significant alumni support and more resources than the average club sport, money for trips to regattas and other team expenses would also no longer be an issue, Larson said.

Varsity status will also help in recruiting.

“We had just recently started getting admissions help,” Renda said. “Having more pull in the admissions office will only help us on the water.”

In becoming a varsity sport, team members worried whether the sailing team could retain certain characteristics, such as its active student leadership, on-campus recruiting and a large roster, Larson said.

“We were very worried that, for example, that we have a really large team and that only the six people sailing most of the varsity regattas would be varsity team members,” Larson said. “We didn’t want there to be jealousies and rivalries.”

Larson said the Athletics Department was considering having approximately 36 varsity roster slots. The team’s Web site lists 51 members on the club’s roster.

The Athletics Department also agreed to allow the team to maintain its structure of student leadership, Larson said.

“The agreement is to still allow students to run YCYC,” Renda said. “There’s so much tradition and energy there; we just couldn’t give it up.”

Despite the assurances of numerous roster spots and student leadership, Renda said there are still team members and alumni opposed to the idea of becoming a varsity program. Last year, team members voted on the issue and a majority came down in favor of the move, Larson said.

“I wasn’t always in favor of it,” said Larson, who had only sailed recreationally before college. “I was worried that people like me would no longer be able to be part of the team.”

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