Mattituck High School could have a new competition sailing club within the next few weeks, thanks to Old Cove Yacht Club in New Suffolk.
Yacht club treasurer Christopher Kuehn of Cutchogue has been researching the possibility since last year, when his son Stefan, then a junior at Mattituck High School, petitioned the school to recognize his sailing skills to list on his college applications.
Mr. Kuehn concluded that since Mattituck is surrounded by water, there should be a way to enable all its students to participate in school-sponsored sailing.
With the help of other yacht club members, Mr. Kuehn helped the yacht club’s foundation raise money to pay a coach. The club plans to donate the use of its facilities and its C420 Class two-man sailing dinghies for the program.
Both the yacht club and the school have obtained program insurance. Since parents would be required to transport their children to competitions and practice, there’s no additional cost to the school.
Mr. Kuehn said he’d like to have Mattituck students out on the water and practicing within weeks so they can compete March 17 in the first qualifying race of the spring season at The Stony Brook School. The club will meet on weekends, with time spent on the water and learning sailing theory in the clubhouse.
Mr. Kuehn’s son Stefan, who is now a senior, plans to take part in the club, and his older son Daniel plans to apply to be the coach.
Stefan now primarily sails Lasers, which are singlehanded boats, in competition, but he said this week that he’s excited to be involved in the quick, strategic two-man races that the club will offer.
“The team races are short and extremely tactical,” he said.
Stefan added that he believes it will be easy to provide enough training for the club to begin competing by mid-March.
“The learning curve for high school sailing is pretty fast,” he said.
“The idea is to open up to the whole community. The interest is there, it’s significant and real,” said Old Cove Yacht Club Commodore Dion Lynch. Mr. Lynch added that high school sailers will need drysuits and other winter sailing gear, but the yacht club will try to help students who can’t afford all the gear with the purchase.
The team would race with about 14 other teams in the Northeast League of the Mid-Atlantic Scholastic Sailing Association. The league covers Long Island, New York City and Westchester County, and meets are held in Stony Brook. Shelter Island is the only other local public school with a sailing team, which also meets at a yacht club on Shelter Island.
Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti said he already knows of 15 students interested in joining the club and hopes to hold an information session in the week ahead.
Sailing stands out on résumés high school students send to colleges, Mr. Kuehn added.
“Many of our kids participate in team sports. They would like to play in college, but most likely they won’t,” he said. “Every single kid in the club now that wants to sail in college is sailing. It’s a lifelong sport.”
He added that it’s part of Old Cove’s mission statement to promote interest in sailing in the larger community.
Members of the school board were concerned with contractual issues that might slow down the launching of the club.
During a discussion during last week’s school board meeting, board president Jerry Diffley said the school will need to post a job listing for a coach and interview candidates, despite the fact that the club has a coach in mind.
Board member Charles Anderson wanted to know if the participating students have already been selected. He said he wanted to make sure it won’t be an exclusive club and that all students have an opportunity to participate.
The team has not been selected, said Mr. Kuehn.
“The mission is to bring the sport of sailing to kids who are not currently involved in the sport,” he added.
Board member Laura Jens-Smith asked whether the district will have to pay to fund the club in future years.
Mr. Kuehn said the yacht club has raised funds to pay a coach for two seasons, and plans ongoing fundraising for the program.
Board member Jeff Smith liked the proposal.
“You’ve got a number of kids who are not involved in sports in school. If we can find something they’re interested in, this to me is a no-brainer,” he said.
The school board will discuss the proposal again at its Feb. 29 work session.