A few students aim to bring a sailing club to Wheaton with the help of some faculty who are passionate about the sport.
While sailing the waters of Lake Michigan this past summer in his grandparents’ small sailboats, junior biology major Jacob Elsen was inspired. When he returned to campus last fall, he decided to share his experiences with the student body in the form of a new club: Wheaton Sailing.
With the help of fellow sailor and freshman communication major Morgan Reeves, Elsen drafted a constitution and pitched a proposal to the Athletic Department, which is currently under review.
While Elsen’s passion for sailing began this past summer at his grandparents’ Wisconsin lodge, Reeves started sailing in sixth grade at a summer camp. She then joined her school’s team, eventually becoming a team captain.
She said she was happily surprised when Elsen reached out about a club.
“A lot of my friends went off to schools that already had sailing teams,” said Reeves. “My goal was to start one my sophomore year, but I came in, and Jacob was already in the process of starting one.”
Coordinating sailboats for a group of students is easier said than done, but Elsen and Reeves’ plan is to practice at Lake Geneva Yacht Club in Wisconsin and take excursions to Northwestern University’s sailing facility on Lake Michigan.
Director of academic and scholarly technology Steven Park ‘85 has been serving as the group’s faculty adviser. Park earned a doctorate in maritime history from the University of Connecticut, and his sailing resume dates all the way back to his job as a waterfront supervisor at HoneyRock Camp, Wheaton’s lakefront property in the North Woods of Wisconsin, in the summer of 1985.
Park advised a sailing club at the University of Connecticut until he returned to Wheaton as director of AIT in 2017. While a student at Wheaton, Park took sailing lessons from Lisa Maxwell ‘88, who later married their classmate Philip Ryken.
This past summer at HoneyRock, Lisa Ryken and Park reflected on their sailing days as students and lamented the absence of sailing at the camp now.
HoneyRock’s sailing program started on Long Lake at HoneyRock in 1961. From the 1970s to 1991, students also sailed on Lake Superior. Last year, HoneyRock retired its last sailboat, due to a combination of factors including poor wind conditions, higher expenses of maintaining sailboats and waning interest among campers.
“The problem isn’t HoneyRock,” said Park. “The problem is us. We need to promote sailing at Wheaton College. And we need to find out who our sailors are, and get them jazzed about it.”
Though Park signed on as faculty adviser for the new sailing club, Associate Professor of Philosophy Robert O’Connor ‘79 will also be helping out. O’Connor and Park took a small group of students sailing on Lake Michigan over a weekend this past September.
Park and O’Connor plan to take less experienced sailors out on Lake Geneva to practice before diving into the bigger waves of Lake Michigan on excursions. Reeves and Elsen will also help teach new sailors.
Elsen said he hopes to explore the possibility of sailing competitively with surrounding schools. More than that, though, he wants the sailing club to challenge the perception that sailing is an exclusive sport.
“We’re really interested in getting the whole campus involved in the club,” he said. “There’s a lot of stereotypes about sailing being a white sport or something just for the wealthy. What we’re really interested in is destigmatizing that and creating a place where everyone can be welcome.”