I was a sophomore at the Den the first time I heard that Wheaton used to have a sailing club. We were talking to a senior from Outdoors Club, and offhand he mentioned that Wheaton used to have a sailing club but that it no longer exists. He also said that we still own sailboats, but that no one knows where they are. I vowed that I would try to track down the sailboats sometime with my investigative journalism skills. I also was badly in need of a story to write for The Wire. For some reason, I did not make the connection until the next morning.
I scheduled an appointment with Andrea Holden, Director of Student Activities, Involvement & Leadership (SAIL), who has been at Wheaton for almost 13 years. She said she remembered a sailing club that had started “a few years after” her first at the school. A single student, a sailing enthusiast, had briefly brought sailing back to Wheaton. A few times per week, the club would go to a lake in Sharon, Mass. When the club started, the students perused old boats the school owned behind Haas. Determining that these could not be salvaged, they worked with the recreation department in Sharon to rent boats and sailing time. Unfortunately, when the founding student left, the club disappeared again. She said that Stephen Angelo, Director of Club Sports, would know more.
Later in the day, l decided to explore behind Haas to see if I could find the old boats. I did not expect to find anything. There were no boats, but I found Stephen Angelo.
He was working with Randi Carine, Wheaton’s Facilities Manager, on the sound system for the new turf field. I approached him and identified myself. Angelo told me that the boats I had heard about existed, and that they were in Sharon, of all places. There were six of them, all missing masts and sails, and in poor shape. Angelo was not sure what kinds of boats they were, but he said they had centerboards as opposed to keels, so a small boat for two or three people was likely. Holden had said that the newer club rented boats. Angelo said the ones in Sharon dated back from the 1980s. Evidently, sailing had a longer history at Wheaton, and these dilapidated boats were the remnants of our sailing past.
I went to the archives in the library. Students are allowed to study in the archives without a specific reason for being there, although I had never been inside. To get in, you have to enter a small inner room. One wall of the inner room is glass, and faces into the archivist’s office, so she can see who it is before letting the person in.
The archivist pulled out a file with all documents relating to sailing at Wheaton. All of them were from either 1979 or the 1980s. Sailing was once a team sport at Wheaton, I learned. The earliest clipping in the file was from April 30, 1979.
In 1983, Wheaton started offering summer sailing lessons to the children of Norton aged 8-16 on Lake Winnecunnet, a pond owned by Norton. The instruction included the fundamentals of sailing, racing techniques and boating safety. That continued until at least 1986, although it is unclear when the program ended. In 1983, Susan R. Epstein, a Wheaton alumna and coach of the sailing team, submitted a proposal for a “waterfront recreational facility” to be located on the shore of Lake Winnecunnet. The project was meant to benefit both the students of Wheaton College and the residents of Norton (and its construction was expected to be funded by both). It never came to fruition.
Wheaton sailed against teams from throughout New England, like Yale, Brown, MIT, Tufts, and Radcliffe College. In 1984, Wheaton was chosen to compete in the National Collegiate Competitions for sailing.
On April 2, 1986, Niki Janus, Dean of the College and Athletic Assistant Director, sent a letter to the athletic department staff saying that it had “become obvious” that there was no longer the “interest and commitment necessary for the continuation of a strong and competitive intercollegiate sailing team.” She advised that the team begin to operate as a club immediately.
As far as I can tell, that was the beginning of the end of Wheaton sailing. We have certainly never had a team since the 1980s, although there have been some enthusiasts. When I was at the Den the first night, we asked the senior from Outdoors a lot of questions because we liked sailing, and had not realized it had ever been an offering. Angelo had said that the boats were in bad shape, but salvageable. Seems there is still a sailing program available, for those students who want to reach out and take it.