HIGH SCHOOL: Finals, Prom…and Nationals

Published on May 8th, 2013

For the high schools in the U.S., the completion of the spring semester is also time for the Interscholastic Sailing Association doublehanded national championships. The coed fleet nationals are in Chicago, IL (May 11-12) and the team race nationals are in Tampa, FL (May 25-26).

One of the dominant schools in the past decade has been Point Loma High School in San Diego, CA. Fueled by the strong STEVEjunior programs in the area, the ‘Pointers’ also have had the support of elite coaches. Steve Hunt, one of the top tacticians on the racing circuit, has been leading the team for over eight years.

The school will be looking to defend both titles which they won in 2012. Scuttlebutt checked in with Steve before the team headed to Chicago…

* What has attributed to the team’s success?
SH: First and foremost the San Diego area has a lot of great sailing families and talented sailors, and the fact the kids can sail year round makes most of the difference. Most of the students had been trained at the San Diego Yacht Club junior program, which provides us one of the best practice facilities in the country.

The club has 24 top notch FJs for high school teams to use at practice, along with a state of the art debriefing room. The basin where we practice is challenging and shifty, and while we don’t get waves or current, the conditions are sufficiently varied which forces them to keep their heads out of the boat and emphasizes the importance of changing gears.

* How has the team evolved during your tenure?

SH: During my tenure the team has grown in size from 18 active members to 34 this year. We have 11 girls and 23 boys on the team which is great. When I first took over it was mostly boys so having more girls on the team has helped in many ways. The boys are much better behaved with better manners, less wrestling and fraternity type pranks and in general a better overall team vibe. Also performance wise we are faster in light conditions which is a huge bonus.

It seems as though success breeds success and the kids get better every year. The older sailors teach the newer sailors and the learning curve is steeper than it was when I first started. Last year was special with the varsity team winning every regatta they competed in including two national championships in fleet racing and team racing.

* How do you see high school sailing fitting into the big picture of sailing?

SH: High school sailing is a great way for experienced sailors to get a lot of time on the water during the school year and compete in short course racing, developing their skills before moving on to college sailing. It’s also a wonderful resource for kids who have never sailed before to learn what it’s all about. We typically get 3 or 4 kids each year that have never sailed before and if they are willing to stick with it, they become very good in a short time.

It’s amazing how quickly teenagers learn. If the bar is set at a certain height, they get to that level, or close to it, very quickly. I am a firm believer that our team is only as strong as our weakest link, so I spend most of my time bringing those with less experience up to par. In doing so the top kids get better practices. The deeper and more challenging the practice the better in my opinion.

* What kind of commitment is needed to be on the team?

SH: We start practicing in October and end in May – most of the school year – so it is a big commitment. I have some kids that do other sports and miss some practices. It may hurt them a little bit but I try to be flexible to keep as many kids as possible.

* How does the team contribute to the high school experience?
SH: Any high school sport adds a lot to the high school experience, and sailing is no exception. Being a part of a team, a large group of like minded people, is very special. Kids enjoy being part of something bigger than themselves, contributing to the greater good and being part of a collective mindset. It challenges the kids, increases their confidence, keeps them off the street, and helps their overall resume to get into college.

* What have you learned about your role, or perhaps, how have you evolved to best lead this team?

SH: Coaching the team has been a great learning experience for me. I love sailboat racing and do it for a living, and I’m constantly racking my brain on how to explain high level sailing. Doing so has helped me become a better speaker and teacher. I have also learned the importance of being extremely fair, honest and open with the team. I had a great coach once tell me to love the team and be completely honest with them. I have adopted that philosophy and it’s certainly the correct path to take.

As a coach you often have difficult decisions to make and I’ve learned pulling each of the affected sailors aside and explaining what you are thinking, and why you are making your decision is very important. At the end of the day no one can argue with a fair decision, and if the player knows you respect and care about them they will keep fighting for you and keep contributing to the team.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PLHSSailingTeam

Two videos produced by local media profiling the team:

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