While many area teenagers spend their summers on a baseball or softball field, a soccer pitch or a basketball court, others are drawn to the water.

But not all of them are going swimming.

The Hoover Sailing Club at Hoover Reservoir in Westerville is giving student-athletes a chance to compete in a sport "like nothing else" through its high school program and Junior Racing Team (JRT).

Participants in the high school program, which is open to students in grades 7-12, compete in one- and two-person boats from late August to late October and again from early April to mid-May.

During the 2018-19 school year, 10 area high schools -- New Albany, Olentangy, Olentangy Berlin, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange, Thomas Worthington, Westerville Central, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne -- competed as four-person teams.

Student-athletes from Columbus Academy, Columbus School for Girls, DeSales, Dublin City Schools, Granville, Upper Arlington and Watterson also participated.

"(Sailing is) not like any other sport," said Sam Heighway, a rising junior at Westerville North. "I played baseball and my friend, Brendan Smucker, talked me into giving it a try. I came out the fall of my freshman year and didn't do it in the spring because of baseball, but last year I did both seasons.

"When you start, you're going to be overwhelmed. There is so much information and a lot of new territory because it's so different. You are going to be confused a lot, but you will get over that and have a lot of fun."

Heighway competes with Smucker -- also a rising junior at North -- in a two-person boat called Club 420, a monohull dinghy whose name describes its length in centimeters. Club 420 is one of three boat classifications used in high school competition.

The other two classifications, Optimist and Laser, are single-person boats. Optimist dinghies are smaller in length and are intended for sailors up to age 15.

"We have our Learn to Sail program, which is threefold," said Jamie Jones, the program's director who also coaches the Denison University sailing team and serves as head coach of the Central Ohio High School Sailing Association. "One is the youth sailing, which is our largest program.

"Secondly, we have our high school racing, which actually starts in middle school, and we have several schools in the area with teams. And then we have the adult Learn to Sail (program) in the evenings. Every year, we teach anywhere from 650 to 700 kids and adults how to sail in our summer program."

Hoover Sailing Club was founded in 1962 and began youth sailing in 1968. Members of the high school program compete in the Midwest Interscholastic Sailing Association (MISSA), which has teams "from Minnesota to Ohio," Jones said. According to Jones, there are 22 four-person high school teams in Ohio, including one from Put-in-Bay and ones from Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo.

"We host four or five regattas each year in the spring and fall," Jones said. "Westerville North was second in the state in the spring and was first in the fall championship. (Cleveland) St. Ignatius beat us in the spring.

"(The Warriors) are one of the top teams in Ohio and in the MISSA. At the state championships this spring, central Ohio teams took six of the top seven spots of the 17 teams competing from around the state."

All of the sailors for the JRT, which competes during the summer, participate as individuals, scoring points for the team, while the high school program has four-member teams, scoring points for their respective schools.

Liberty rising sophomore Brady Smith has been sailing since he was in seventh grade and said the sport can be demanding.

"There is a giant learning curve," Smith said. "There are so many things you have to learn, but if you're willing to get wet and be in uncomfortable conditions, then sailing is the right thing for you.

"When I'm doing high school sailing in the fall, it's not that bad. But I'll be sailing out in the spring and it will be 45 degrees out there. I will be wearing a full-on dry suit and it's still cold. When you go in (the water) once, you have to go back to the club and warm up."

A rising freshman at Liberty, Emma Friedauer began sailing at a young age when her family traveled to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, each summer to visit her grandparents. A native of Texas, she moved to central Ohio with her family in 2011.

"When we moved to Ohio, it was farther to go to Florida, so my mom started looking around (on the internet) and found out about the Junior Race Team," Friedauer said. "She talked to Jamie and my brother, Cameron, came out to one of the high school practices and we both really liked it."

Friedauer, whose brother is a rising senior at Liberty, competes in both the Club 420 and Laser boats, but prefers the two-person dinghies.

"I'd say the most difficult thing about being in a Laser is that it's all up to you," she said. "When you are on a 420, you have someone else to bounce ideas off of. On a Laser, it's up to you to make that decision and go out there and hope it works."

Smucker, who is skipper of a Club 420 with Heighway as his crewman, enjoys the teamwork involved with a two-person dinghy.

"The 420s are what I started with and they're a lot of fun," Smucker said. "I really enjoy working with Sam and making things work."

Heighway said communication is crucial on a two-person boat.

"Communication is so important because it helps you stay in sync with your partner," he said. "That basically allows you to go faster. I need to notify him of what's coming up and he lets me know what we should be doing. There is constant talking going on, and it's nice having someone to fall back on."

Collier Ellis, a rising junior at New Albany, competes in a Club 420 with John Sullivan, a rising junior at Watterson. Ellis juggles golf and sailing during the fall.

"The practice (for sailing) is later, so I don't miss either (sport) very often," Ellis said. "Golf is nothing like sailing. If anything, sailing is most like racing go-karts, but it's not like any sport I have done before."

Jones said Hoover Sailing Club's high school program has a fee of $130 in the spring and $175 in the fall. The spring season consists of eight weeks of practice and two home regattas, while the fall season has 13 weeks of practice and selected meets.

"In sailing, it's easy to learn the basics, but you have to put the time in to learn the skills," Jones said. "The more time you have on the water, the better you'll get.

"(Hoover Sailing Club is) all-inclusive. We don't turn anyone away. Anyone who wants to come out and try it out can do that. And anyone who wants to come out and practice, they can. Some kids see the flier in high schools and think they would like to give it a try. They come out and we give them a life jacket and let them try it out a couple of times."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

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