Six Best All-Around trophies. More than 100 All-American or Honorable All-American athletes. 20 national championships. Which team in collegiate sports brings home this degree of success? Basketball at Kentucky? Baseball at LSU? Football at Alabama?
No – it’s the College of Charleston sailing program.
The team is relatively unknown on campus, but they have been one of the most dominant forces in the sport for years. In addition to those titles, the team has produced two Sportsman/woman of the Year and three College Sailors of the Year.
The College of Charleston has one of the most storied sailing programs in the country, but many students are unaware of the team’s success. Founded in 1964, the varsity sailing team has achieved so much with very little recognition. The sailing team launched three members as well as an alum to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. However, these impressive statistics are not all that set this team apart. The really astounding thing about this team is the deep sense of family that resonates within the more than 60 members of the team, as well as the coaching staff. Part of a great team is having a great leader at the helm, and here at the College of Charleston that great leader is head coach Ward Cromwell. Cromwell first came to the College nine seasons ago, and took over the role of the head coaching duties six seasons ago. His coaching style resonates well with the team and his great rapport with his players allows them to have fun, engaging practices.
“I have met a lot of other college coaches and I felt that Ward has a really nice environment. There are some coaches [that believe] every person on our team is your enemy. That’s not Ward’s style,” said Grace McCarthy, a junior on the sailing team.
Stefano Peschiera, a senior on the sailing team and an Olympic athlete, cited Cromwell’s dedication to the team as one of his best attributions. “Every decision he makes is for the benefit of the team. [He’s made] hard decisions, and usually they’re the best call to make. He’s a coach we can all trust [to] make the right decision,” he said.
Elizabeth Pemberton, a senior sailing captain, said that, “Ward’s interest in the team, and encouragement of a healthy team dynamic are what make him such a great coach.”
McCarthy, Peschiera’s sailing partner, cited Cromwell as her main reason for choosing the College in the first place.
How does Cromwell see his own style? He tries to focus as much as he can on his team members and making sure they are prepared. “I’ve learned a lot from other coaches, no doubt, but I try to do my own thing,” said Cromwell.
Another great advantage of the College of Charleston’s sailing team is its size. There are sixty people on the team total, which makes it easy to take out all eighteen boats every practice. In a sailing competition, or regatta, there are eighteen boats in the water, so practicing with the same number of boats makes it an easier adjustment when the team is actually competing.
“We recruit from all across the nation and we get lots of different people, and everyone is highly skilled. We’re all friends on land, but the competitiveness is really high,” said Paris Henken, a junior on the team and one of the aforementioned Olympic athletes.
Greg Fisher, Director of Sailing, also has a great impact on the team. Fisher is one of the greatest American sailors to date (capturing 21 North American or National Championships in seven different classes), and has used that knowledge to benefit the team. Fisher is also a former sailmaker, so that skill comes in handy with being able to pinpoint ways to make sailors faster with the smallest adjustments. He wants to promote the team and get the word out on all their great work and has the sailing team involved with programs like Wounded Warriors.
Fisher views service as a key tool in raising support for the team and giving the team a sense of the community they inhabit. He keeps them involved in the college’s athletic department; taking non-credit classes, the sailing classes offered by the college, disabled sailing and junior camps.
A lot of sports teams boast of winning traditions and a great love for their sports, but very few have the extreme sense of connection that the College of Charleston varsity sailing team has. Clearly, a talented and motivated bunch of people have taken the program from just a sport to so much more – it has become a lifestyle. This team truly is a group of people who genuinely love to sail, and obviously love to do so with each other.
*This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.