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DePaul gets on board with sailing club

By Cheryl Waity
On February 6, 2012

Chicago isn't exactly Newport, R.I. Or Burlington, Vt. Or Cape Cod, Mass. But that didn't stop several DePaul students from tapping in to Chicago's sailing community and bringing it back to campus.

The club was the brainchild of Sean Palizza, junior digital cinema student also known as Commodore Palizza, who reignited his passion for sailing this past summer in the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac. Palizza sailed on a cruising ship named Jug Band that won the Race to Mackinac's cruising division. It was his first Mac, but not his first time on the water.

"I started sailing with my dad as far back as I can remember," said Palizza. He sailed out of the Winnetka Yacht Club as a child and also attended camps and trips where he would sail.

His first Mac experience though is something that Palizza describes as "sort of like winning the Super Bowl in your first pro game."

The DePaul Sailing Club sails out of Monroe Harbor with the help of coaches at Columbia Yacht Club, which also helps to host and coach other university sailing clubs including Univiersity of Illinois at Chicago, University of Chicago and Robert Morris University.

"I was the only actual experienced sailor who had been sailing in the fall," said Palizza. "Thankfully, with the coaching of Columbia and a lot of practice, the team got the hang of it."

Junior political science and peace, justice and conflict resolutions student Sawyer Hopp was also integral in getting DePaul's Sailing Club afloat.

"He's been my right-hand man with all the logistical stuff," said Palizza.

Hopp grew up on the east coast near both Boston, Mass. and Portland, Maine, but sailing was never a huge part of his life and he never competed.

"I always loved spending time out on the water and so when he proposed the idea of doing something like that it piqued my interest," said Hopp.

He also thought this would be a good opportunity to really connect and get involved at DePaul.

"We were really surprised DePaul didn't already have a team because we are really close to the lake," said Hopp.

Even recognizing the proximity to the lake as an advantage for a DePaul sailing club and choosing DePaul because he liked living near large bodies of water, Hopp didn't realize there was such an avid sailing community around Chicago.

"I didn't really know about it," said Hopp. "It definitely surprised me."

Freshman Mallory Ewart didn't really have sailing on the brain when she entered DePaul; in fact, the cinema and media studies student from Tennessee had never sailed before. She put her name on the new club's list at the first involvement fair and has been an active member ever since. Her first experience sailing was with the club.

"I like to think that I've improved," said Ewart.

The team is waiting to hear back if they will be able to race competitively in the spring season. Because sailing is not governed by the NCAA, Palizza and the club applied for membership to the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association. This will allow DePaul, once accepted, to compete immediately with other Division I college sailing teams in the Great Lakes area including Notre Dame, Northwestern, Indiana University, University of Illinois and Michigan State University.

Because of its status as a club sport, the DePaul Sailing Club has to apply for SAF-B funding like other clubs to be financially supported by the University. Sailing can be an expensive endeavor, evidenced by the more than $300 cost of participation to each club member this past fall for use of Columbia facilities and equipment.

Most other schools are in a similar boat except for Robert Morris, whose sailing team is considered a fully funded varsity sport. But the club has petitioned for more funding from DePaul and the school has already responded.

"They've already given us money for life jackets in the spring, which is awesome of them," said Palizza. "Safety first."

SAF-B can fund anywhere from five percent to 40 percent of a club's operating expenses. The hope would be to get more funding for equipment and traveling costs as well as covering some cost of competing.

The club practices with 420 sailboats at the Columbia Yacht Club. The 420 is a two-person racing dinghy sailed at school, club, national and international levels.

Although the club has not yet competed, the looming possibility has definitely crept in some of the member's minds.

"Oh my gosh, I'm absolutely so nervous," said Ewart. "The first one will definitely be a challenge."

While their membership is contingent on a letter and sending in their dues to the MCSA, the club looks forward to Chicago area regattas and competitive meets either this spring or the following fall, as well as developing on their foundation.

"I'd definitely like to see the growth of our initial pool of members because I think there is a lot of optimism and enthusiasm in the group," said Hopp.

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