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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-20-24 PDF
February 20, 2024
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February 12, 2024

Fee Refunds Bite Back

Jason LeBlanc may lose his job. The shrinking fleet of UMB sailboats, down from fourteen to seven after more than thirty years of love from LeBlanc and others, can’t keep the sailing program afloat much longer. And even though sailing will never disappear on campus, it could be outsourced.

LeBlanc learned to sail at UMB thirty years ago with his uncle, who was a student sailing instructor. Now he works 42-weeks a year in the harbor, on the ocean or in the garage as UMB’s Sailmaster, keeping sailboats ship-shape and ready for racing.

“With a little more backing we could have a top 15 NECSA team, and we could compete nationally,” LeBlanc said.

But competitive sailing is not in the budget this year, and even the recreational sailing program has so many holes nobody can figure out which ones should be patched first. With state funds dwindling, the hefty bill inflicted by the sailing program has left administrators considering their options for the spring.

Laying-off LeBlanc would free Chris Sweeney, the Director of Marine Ops, who runs the sailing program, to update his department’s equipment.

“Probably 90 percent of our budget goes to salaries. And given that sailing is an equipment-laden sport, we don’t have the capital to buy many new supplies let alone new boats,” said Sweeney.

LeBlanc and members of the sailing club find themselves patching-up the working sailboats with parts from broken ones. Competitive sailing scarcely had a chance. Even with the sails that were donated by the Boston College sailing team, LeBlanc said, there’s barely enough money to keep the boats afloat, let alone the dock.

“They love to use sailing for advertising, but they haven’t really funded it,” said LeBlanc. “It’s expensive to run any mainstream athletics program. And they have the big boat out there with a broken motor, which they have to spend a few thousand to fix.”

Marine Ops gets $83,000 each year for the sailing program. The few thousand left after paying LeBlanc and some student employees disappears quickly. But even with the funding gaps, the impossibility of a viable sailing team at UMB offends LeBlanc.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to say we could never have a successful sailing team here because it’s a commuter campus,” LeBlanc said.

The most active members of the sailing club make up the sailing team, and for team members like Tim Jones who learned to sail at UMB LeBlanc is indispensable. He unofficially coaches the sailing club, scheduling weekly races for them in the spring and summer and providing the expertise and knowledge they need to become better sailors.

“We were fighting over the summer to try to get Jason paid as our coach,” Jones said.

Their failure got shoved in their face when they found out that LeBlanc might not even be an unofficial resource for the club next semester.

“Jason’s supportive to the club because of his knowledge of sailing and racing. But you can’t just take one person out of the equation and expect them to fail,” Sweeney said.

With eight of the top ten sailing teams in the Boston area, and only one division in college level competitive sailing, the UMB sailing club faces the best student sailors in the country, every weekend. This fall they competed in 15 races, and even though they didn’t do well, like true underdogs they loved every minute of it.

“It’s pretty neat to be able to compete against Harvard and MIT. We are the only division one team on campus. But we are not a recognized athletic sport, because we are a club. Athletics never really liked funding the sailing program,” said Jones.

Since sailing became a staple luxury at UMB when the University moved to the harbor in the 1970s, no single campus division stuck around to pay for it. But for the past five years the Vice Chancellor of Athletics, Charlie Titus, has footed the bill.

“We fund a recreational sail program. That’s the boats down on the pier, we offer free sailing lessons for all students, and once qualified, students can take our boats out whenever they want, but we don’t fund the sailing club,” he said.

The sailing club creates the sailing team. It’s not funded by athletics, but equipment owned by the athletic department supports the sailing club along with many other unofficial sports programs at UMB like rugby and golf.

“I have no intention of letting one club go under. We will continue funding the recreational sailing program and the sailing club can always use our boats,” said Titus.

Still the sailing club is a vital resource for keeping the boats afloat.

“A lot of club leaders are employed by Marine Ops. We generally keep four to five employees during the summer, and they administer those lessons and maintain the boats,” said Sweeney

LeBlanc and his protégés focus on competitive sailing, when they speak about the sailing program at UMB, because that’s what they say fuels the symbiotic relationship between the sailing program and the sailing club. It keeps students invested in maintaining the boats. And without it students would gravitate toward their classes rather than mending rudders donated in the 1970s.

Administrators feel that the sailing program is enough incentive, and are unable to invest more money in it. Chris Fitzgerald, The Assistant Director of Athletics, handles funding for all the recreational athletic equipment on campus. He explained that the sailing program has always been a priority at UMB.

“We had some cuts last year, and the sailing program was the last thing to get cut. We have other athletic services that got cut three times before we took money out of the sailing program,” he said.

Although the sailing club may not be able to make it to all or even most of the meets that they would hope to in the coming years, UMB will continue to give students an opportunity to get out on the ocean, experience the full force of the salty breeze, and hear sails flap as they careen overhead. The chance to catch wind and speed over the frothy green harbor, in Sweeney’s mind, is enough.

“The club is a student run organization, but they cannot run without our support,” Sweeney said. “I think that what will drive the growth of the club is dedication and effort from its members, an organizational structure that transitions from year to year and some creative fundraising that helps cover the high costs of such a sport.”

After refunding the student fee increases this year, administrators don’t have the money to add a sailing team into the over drained athletics budget. But they continue to cheer students on as they compete with their peers at Harvard and MIT through their own effort and dedication.

Offering sailing opportunities for students and others who would otherwise miss out on them fits UMB’s vision Chancellor J. Keith Motley explained.

“Our waterfront location is a wonderful resource for the university, and sailing will always be a part of how we use this resource,” he said. “During this difficult economic climate, we are exploring many ways in which we can do more with less. I look forward to expanding opportunities for students and residents of Boston to learn and recreate on our waterfront through our sailing program, club, and Marine Operations.”

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010