Sailing Program Builds Champions On and Off the Water
World Class Racing Team Emerges at Lake Forest High School.
When then Lake Forest Mayor Ron Waud asked local maritime enthusiast Norman Olson in 1999 to turn a recreational sailing program into a world class racing team, who knew one of the nation's premier teams would emerge.
Olson did. He also knew it would build champions both on and off the water.
While Lake Forest High School has become one of the nation's powerhouses and the "team to beat" in the Midwest, according to coach Hunter Ratliff, the program operated by Lake Forest Parks and Recreation also trains and coaches the teams for Lake Forest Academy and Woodlands Academy. Both are regionally competitive squads.
Olson, who developed a program in Clearwater, Fla., which produced two Olympic silver medalists, led an effort to raise $500,000 to purchase 16 two-person racing boats and 26 smaller one-person boats. The smaller craft are used to teach younger persons who can begin at age 8.
"I didn't ask people to donate money, I asked them to buy boats to help develop wonderful young people," Olson said. "By the time I asked them what they wanted to name the boat, they were writing the check."
The Building Begins
When Ratliff arrived in 2005, only four high school students were on a team that was not competitive with perennial champions New Trier and Loyola Academy.
"I targeted younger sailors to make this their sport," said Ratliff.
In June, seven seniors who began as eighth graders with Ratliff in 2005 graduated, and the Scouts finished more than 50 points ahead of the Trevians and Ramblers in the Midwest championships.
One of those seniors, Will Hager, skippered the national champion A level boat last spring. Today he is a freshman at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and a member of its sailing team. That boat had two crew members, Ian Schuppe, now a freshman at Grinnell College in Iowa, and Katie Hall, a Scout junior.
"It's awesome," said Hall, who began sailing in high school unlike many members of the team, who have been sailing much of their lives. "My dad sails a little and my best friend suggested I come out for the team."
Hall would "love to sail in college" with Vermont and Wisconsin as potential choices.
'We're in God's gymnasium'
High school sailing is a year 'round co-ed sport. Boys and girls compete together with deference given only to talent. Along with parent chaperons, the Scouts compete in places like Florida during the winter months.
Both Olson and Ratliff know the rigors of sport on the water require mental toughness and character developed few other places. "We're in God's gymnasium," said Ratliff. "No two days are alike. Add those elements to the tactics needed to beat an opponent along with the physical challenge and you build character."
Olson believes sailing helps youth think for themselves, which helps build confidence in the classroom and create a goal for college. "They listen to the wind," Olson said. "They develop their inner voice and learn how to know the right answer."
A current Scout senior and skipper, Cole Rice, who entered the program just before Ratliff's arrival, has become a squad leader and another personification of the team's success.
"The sense of competition and self motivation" help Rice on and off the water. "If you work hard, you will be good," he said.