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All Clear Ahead

Newport Harbor Wins Fifth Sailing Title in Six Years

June 02, 1998|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Newport Harbor skipper Troy Treaccar was moments away from finishing a national championship high school sailing race last week when he stopped his boat dead in the water.

The sail on the 14-foot Collegiate Flying Junior flapped in the light late-afternoon breeze off Coronado in San Diego Bay. Treaccar and his crewperson, Kassy Thompson, were yards away from the finish line, but made no effort to cross.

They were waiting to set the sailing equivalent of a screen in basketball, holding position to prevent an opponent from finishing before two other Newport Harbor boats.

The strategy worked. The skipper from St. George's School in Newport, R.I., decided to cut between the Newport Harbor boat and the buoy--called the mark--that defined one end of the finish line. There wasn't enough room and the boats collided.

"It's called a mark trap," explained Treaccar, a junior. "And this guy cruised on in there. I can't blame him though. It's either that or go around me and lose anyway.

"It was kind of a last-gasp effort."

Judges at first ruled Treaccar had committed an infraction, but at a post-race protest hearing, he was found to have had the right of way over the St. George's boat skippered by Curtis Flood.

Moments later, Newport Harbor sailors were pushing each other into the water to celebrate winning the Baker Trophy, which goes to the nation's best high school team sailors.

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It took quick thinking by Treaccar to pull out the victory, but the tactic was grounded in hours of preparation. He and his teammates are products of a program that is among the best in the United States.

Newport Harbor has won six national titles, five since 1993. Last year, the school won the Mallory Trophy regatta, the fleet racing national championship, and finished as runners-up for the Baker Trophy. In the summer of 1997, the team finished third at the world championships in England.

This year, the Mallory and Baker finishes were reversed, but Newport Harbor's Baker Trophy victory was convincing. The team was undefeated in 15 races.

Of course, that Newport Harbor is a sailing power shouldn't surprise anyone. The school's nickname, after all, is the Sailors , and the school is minutes away from one of the most active marinas on the West Coast.

But in the beginning, high school sailing at Newport Harbor wasn't as natural a fit as one might expect, said Bill Wakeman, the team's founding coach.

Wakeman, a Newport Harbor graduate, got involved in high school sailing in the mid-1960s when he was sailing for Long Beach State and living at the Balboa Yacht Club. He was asked by Dave Ullman, a Newport Harbor student who in 1996 was named the U.S. yachtsman of the year, and Kim Desenberg of Corona del Mar to organize some races between the schools. He agreed and although the competition was informal, it became "quite a rivalry," Wakeman said.

In 1972, Wakeman was hired as an English teacher at Newport Harbor and with the help of Judy Franco, then the PTA president and now a Newport-Mesa School Board member, persuaded the school to sanction the sport.

The athletic administration went along reluctantly, Wakeman said, putting the coed sport under the jurisdiction of the girls' physical education department.

"Athletic directors have a tendency not to understand any sport that doesn't involve a ball," Wakeman said, "especially back then."

But blessed with a steady supply of sailors from youth programs at local yacht clubs, the Sailor program soon was thriving.

Interscholastic sailing got its start in 1930 in Greenwich, Conn., and New England prep schools have been dominant from the beginning. Currently more than 200 high schools nationwide have active sailing teams, about 25 in Southern California.

In Orange County, Corona del Mar also has a consistently strong team--the Sea Kings won national titles in 1987 and 1992. Dana Hills, Foothill and Mater Dei were the only other Orange County schools with active teams in 1998.

With its 25-member team, Newport Harbor dwarfs many of the powerful eastern teams. Such a large talent pool means the Sailors have plenty of opportunity to hone their skills in practice.

It also means competition is fierce for spots in the boats, of which there were only six (with three alternates) for the Baker Trophy regatta.

"The competition, of course, just makes everyone better," Treaccar said. "If you don't improve you're going to get left behind."

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And the Newport Harbor program comes out ahead. It stays strong because of strong coaching and support from parents. Wakeman relinquished his on-the-water responsibilities in 1991, giving way to two former UC Irvine standouts, Jaime Malm, from 1992 to '97, and Eric Knopf, the current coach.

Wakeman, who now teaches at Costa Mesa High, remains the volunteer advisor and fund raisers are held to pay Knopf's salary. Money raised also subsidizes travel costs, paying for about half of those expenses. Parents must cover the remainder.

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