By Claire Walla
This fall, the Pierson High School sailing team is in a flux. Numbers are low and students have not participated in any regattas like they have in years past. However, the middle school team currently fields about 15 students who file down to the Breakwater Yacht Club on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and step into one of several Optis that wait for them by the shore.
The students, clad in wet-suits, each lug their own sails, keels and rudders to their small boats and they assemble the vessels themselves before setting sail.
Though teacher Richard Terry is the only paid coach, several parents volunteer to help with the program, including Steve Clarke, whose daughter is part of the middle school club, and Marty Knab, whose son (a ninth grader) is out on the water each week, even though Pierson is not competing at the high school level this fall.
“The school board and the district think the sailing program is great. Sailing can be a way for students to learn life-long lessons through sport,” said Sag Harbor School Board member Mary Anne Miller.
However, Miller and several members of the school board believe the program needs to be more clearly defined.
“We need to make sure that the program is up to the standards of New York State education requirements,” she said.
All Pierson sports teams are organized and operate according to Section XI rules, which provide a blueprint for athletics in Suffolk County, detailing how sports should be run, from uniform requirements to game times and the number of coaches needed for a team. All Pierson sports teams adhere to these countywide guidelines — except sailing, a sport that is simply not covered by Section XI.
“The main concern is safety,” Miller continued, which is inherently more of an issue for the sailing program because it’s run off-site at the Breakwater Yacht Club and uses that organization’s equipment (all other sports teams’ equipment is provided by the school). Adhering to the proper protocol is important, Miller added, so that the school can sustain the program in the future.
Without a proper rubric, the program’s future at Pierson is somewhat contingent on parents volunteering their time, Miller continued. Pierson currently pays one faculty member to head the program, but one faculty member is not adequate for a sport that fields more than a dozen students who need supervision both on the water and on the dock.
According to Interscholastic Sailing Association rules, each sailing team should have one “chase boat” for each student boat out on the water. Pierson currently teams-up with Ross School students and teachers, who, in addition to parent volunteers, ensure there is enough adult oversight, and the proper number of chase boats, at each practice.
The Pierson sailing program was started seven years ago when Richard Terry volunteered to supervise a small group of five to six high school students who had expressed interest in the sport. After some time, the high school team grew, and about five years ago Terry said he expanded the Pierson program to include a middle school club, which he described as “a farm team for the high school program.” The middle school club, he explained, would train students at an earlier age, better preparing them for the high school level. “I’d really like to see a strong racing team in the future,” he said.
Since raising concern for the safety of the program at the beginning of October, the board has been notified that the children are indeed insured through the yacht club (though, Dr. Gratto also noted that their parents are their primary insurers) and the students go through several safety routines before getting out on the water. Terry said he has the students do a 50-yard swim test, as well as practice taking on and off their life jackets in the water.
According to Clarke, there is paperwork on the program that was drafted by the school board and the Breakwater Yacht Club; but those discussions took place about a decade ago.
Because these documents are now dated, the school board has asked Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols to draft and submit new documents outlining the requirements for the sport before the spring season gets underway.
“I’m positive we’ll get it all worked out,” Miller said.