Junior Olympic Sailing Festival celebrates 15th birthday

USA Junior Olympic Sailing Festival
Talbot Wilson - Copyright
The Junior Olympic Sailing Festival will be celebrating its 15th birthday this year. The series of regattas takes place in sixteen states and is geared towards more than 4,000 youth that are between the ages of eight and twenty-one with an interested in sailing.

This youth development program is designed to promote the enjoyment of sailing, the development of skills in young sailors, and to provide a pathway for hopeful Olympic competitors. During the course of the 2011 JO season, young sailors will race Optimists, Lasers, Radials, Sunfish, El Toros, Club 420s, CFJs, 29ers, windsurfers, Hobie Cats, Bytes, Thistles and Laser 4.7s.

Since the inception of the program in 1997, more than 47,000 sailors have participated in 283 events offering various levels of competition, skill building and fun activities designed to encourage a life-long involvement in the sport of sailing.

Additionally, Junior Olympic program has inspired hundreds of young sailors to reach for their Olympic dreams. 2008 Olympic Medalists and current members of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics Anna Tunnicliffe and Zach Railey were once competitors in the Junior Olympic program.

The medal ceremony at the end of each JO event is similar to that of the Olympic Games format, as class winners step up to the podium to collect gold, silver, and bronze Junior Olympic medals. Special fun prizes and sportsmanship awards are presented at many JO events. The USA Junior Olympic Sailing Festival is sponsored by West Marine, Gill North America, Active.com and Hobie Polarized. Visit US SAILING’s 2011 Junior Olympic Sailing Festival site (here.

Buzz Reynolds has been Chairman of the USA Junior Olympic Sailing Festival at the Island Heights Yacht Club in Island Heights, N.J. for the past 10 years. In this exclusive Q and A with US Sailing, Reynolds discussed the event’s growth throughout its long history.

US Sailing: What do you attribute to the growth of your Junior Olympic event over the years?

Buzz: 'The JO's at IHYC started over 30 years ago as a local regatta for the best junior sailors on Barnegat Bay. Due to the excellent sailing conditions, race management and on-shore activities the regatta has grown from 30 boats to over 300 boats, with sailors from all over the country including Canada, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands. Having over 100 club members volunteer their time is crucial to run everything required for a regatta of this size. The volunteers come back year after year because they enjoy seeing the young sailors compete and socialize.'

US Sailing: Is this a testament to the growth of junior sailing in the area?

Buzz: 'I would attribute the growth in the Junior Olympics due to the great racing conditions and organization of the regatta that has attracted sailors from all over the country. Barnegat Bay has always had a strong and active ju-nior sailing program. We have consistent strong breezes with excellent race management.'

US Sailing: How do you go about researching trends and popularity in junior sailing?

Buzz Reynolds, Junior Olympic Sailing Festival
Buzz: 'The Hobie Cat class contacted us about adding Hobie to the IHYC JO's. They wanted their Hobie sailors to see and be part of a Junior Olympic event.

Fortunately, Seaside Park Yacht Club was willing to host the Hobie Cats out of their facility as the Island Heights Yacht Club facility was already full. The same went for the Sunfish class two years ago. They asked if they could be part of the JO's as well and Pine Beach Yacht Club stepped up to host them.

So we have three separate yacht clubs, which include Island Heights, Seaside Park and Pine Beach, who work together to run this event. Additionally, members of Toms River and Ocean Gate Yacht Clubs volunteer. It is quite a site to see over 300 boats competing on five different race circles.

The idea is to be inclusive rather than exclusive, so that as many young sailors as possible get exposed to the concept of sailing against the best sailors in a multi-class event.'

US Sailing:What advice would you have for other clubs interested in hosting a JO event or other junior sailing events in general?

Buzz: 'The key is to have a great group of volunteers to support the event and then run it really well. We try to combine excellent race management with fun, social activities on shore. We feed the volunteers and give them a JO hat each year, which has become a badge of honor among the locals. We also try to give the event an 'Olympic' feel by having an opening ceremony with the sailors marching with their club burgee, the singing of the national anthem and a well-organized awards ceremony to honor the top sailors.'

US Sailing: Tell us an interesting story symbolic to the excitement and enthusiasm of junior sailing that you have experienced.

Buzz: 'There are so many great stories that come out of the JO's each year from young sailors that go on to compete nationally and in the Olympics, to acts of sportsmanship which we recognize with an award each year.

However, my favorite is an article one of the sailors wrote for her school about her experience when we had some severe weather with winds up to 30 knots and the personal challenge it meant for her. She never gave up and finished the race. Her determination and love of the sport that came through in her writing symbolized what we are trying to teach our young sailors.'

Read Kelly’s story of her Junior Olympic experience here. *US Sailing’s Roadshow will be participating at the Island Heights Junior Olympic Festival on July 24-25. Learn more here.

JO website