Navigating new waters: Tulane’s sailing team gains varsity status


Former vice president Miia Newman (skipper) and former president Alex Betzios (crew) sail at the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association Women’s National Competition. With a promotion to varsity status and the addition of a head coach, sailing team members hope to eventually vie for a national championship.

   Director of Athletics Troy Dannen took the stage at a June 15 Athletics Department press conference to announce the Tulane sailing team would be transitioning from club status to varsity level.

“It’s a new era,” Dannen said.

This move was largely made possible by the donations of Elizabeth “Libby” Alexander, an alumna and sailor, and her husband, Robert Alexander. The Athletics Department is now in the hunt for a sailing coach, which the team has been lacking for the past few years.

“We’ve had a few coaches while we were here,” junior Harris Cram, vice president of the sailing team, said. “We used to have someone who was associated with the yacht club that we sail out of, and then they had to go. And then … for six weeks we had one coach, also didn’t work out.”

It was difficult for the sailing team to find a coach who was qualified and could commit the time to the team, with a relatively small amount of pay. In the meantime, they relied on graduate student Jess Oswalt, who was a sailor for the team until 2016 and committed as much time as her schedule would allow. The team members otherwise had to rely on each other, with more experienced sailors taking turns coaching practices and taking the less knowledgeable team members under their wings.

Team secretary and sophomore Mary Berg spearheaded her own search for a committed coach last year and was even able to find a prominent sailor within the New Orleans community willing to do the team a favor.

Soon after that, however, Berg and the rest of the team were called to a meeting with the Athletics Department, where they were informed that the team would be transitioning to varsity and that the department would be conducting their own search for a coach.

Mónica Lebrón, deputy director of the Athletics Department, is leading the search for the head coach. She will also be overseeing the sport once it joins the varsity ranks. She has been vetting candidates since the summer and hopes to have a head coach in the next month.

“Right now I’m in the process of reviewing resumes,” Lebrón said. “I’ve actually conducted phone interviews. So while I won’t expose who’s involved, I will say that we have a pretty strong candidate pool.”

The Athletics Department has remained tight-lipped about candidates being considered for the position, and sailors have also been kept in the dark.

Outside of matters concerning future leadership, though, Lebrón has made sure to keep sailors updated on changes. Part of the varsity deal includes a new practice facility. This will be shared with Community Sailing New Orleans, a nonprofit organization that provides underprivileged youth and others who lack access or means the opportunity to sail.

“What we’ve used for forever is this slab of concrete with one single wooden dock going off of it in the corner of a boatyard way out of New Orleans, like the very corner over by Metairie, and all we had was that and this green shipping container to keep our stuff in and the boats,” Cram said. “… Eventually we’ll get to the point where we would have a lot of use of it, especially during the school year, and during the summer it’ll be hosting community events, helping underprivileged kids sail, that kind of thing.”

With the additions of a top-notch facility, a dedicated head coach and the increased funding that comes with varsity status, the sailing team hopes to be more competitive than ever before. Change won’t come without consequence, however, as some team members feel unsure about their future with a sport they joined for fun. 

“Some people aren’t too thrilled about the transition,” sophomore and team treasurer Stephen Hahn said. “The time commitment and practices are going to be a lot more intense. It’s intimidating to some of the team members [who] … are afraid it won’t fit into their busy academic schedule.”

The team still has a year before the pressure and responsibility of being a Division I sport sets in. Some members will be sailing for the last time, due to either commitment issues or cutting implemented by the new head coach. It is a year of transition but also one strikingly similar to the ones before it.

“At least for the foreseeable half of this year, it’s going to be one last round leading up to [the transition to varsity],” Cram said. “So we’re just going to enjoy it.”

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