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35 Years of Fun at SYSC


In 2024, we are excited to celebrate SYSC's 35th year of providing sailing lessons to the youth of Sheboygan. As we kick off the spring season in just a few weeks, we are taking a look back on what the previous 34 years have brought us and dreaming of what the next 35 will bring. Make sure you join us on our journey - you won't regret being a part of our story. 

The story of youth sailing in Sheboygan stretches back much farther than the 35 years of SYSC. In 1932, the Sheboygan Sea Scouts Ship 50 was founded. Back then, the Sea Scouts served boys aged 14 to 21 - they learned to sail, built boats, raced their boats, learned general seamanship skills, and enjoyed the general camaraderie that the Sea Scouts program offers. In the years since, the Sea Scouts have maintained these base principals and has opened up to girls (1987). "Graduates" of the Sea Scout program remain prominent members of the Sheboygan Yacht Club community and the general sailing community. 

In the 1980s, a group of Sheboygan Yacht Club members recognized the need to provide sailing lessons for young sailors not yet old enough to join the Sea Scouts, so in March of 1989, SYSC was born. The program raised funds from local business, service clubs, and individuals to purchase 10 Optimist dinghies to teach from that first summer. That year, together with her daughter Carolyn, Lynn Kieffer taught 36 young sailors aged 8 to 12 how to sail off the beach in front of the Sheboygan Yacht Club.

Just a few years later, the program had nearly doubled in size. In the summer of 1992, SYSC served 67 youth sailors who participated in races all over Lake Michigan. We hired our first two sailing instructors and purchased a Boston Whaler an on-the-water teaching platform. These instructors were certified by the USYRU (now known as US Sailing). 

Big moves for SYSC came in 1994 when we teamed up with the City of Sheboygan, the Sheboygan Development Corp., the Sheboygan Yacht Club, and corporate and private donors to fund the building of a Youth Boating Center - the same building we operate from today. The Harbor Centre Marina was built at this time as well - you will notice a distinct similarity in architecture and color scheme - this is why! 1994 also brought us a new platform in the form of 420s - one of which we still have sailing in our fleet today. 

For the next several years, the program continued to grow, teaching over 100 young sailors on Lake Michigan. We received another boost in 2000 when Windway Capital Corporation donated two J24s, two Ynglings, and a Zodiac safety boat for instructors. The J24s and the Zodiac remain in our program today as extremely valuable assets for teaching sailing. 

In 2005, most of the dinghies in the program were a decade or more old and in need of repair or replacement after thousands of hours of use. Fortunately, the Brotz Family Foundation stepped in to help the program continue its upward trajectory by replacing the majority of the fleet. Because of their donation, we added many boats that we still use today, including six brand new Optimists, 10 Prams, 4 Lasers, 2 Lightnings, 4 420s, and a coach boat. Through careful maintenance, we have been able to keep most of these boats up and running over the last nearly two decades. 

The SYSC spent the next ten years growing its summer programs, offering high-quality learn-to-sail and racing instruction to students all over Sheboygan. The instructor staff continued to grow and many of them came from within the program. In 2013, SYSC was recognized by US Sailing as an Accredited Community Sailing Center. At the time, we were one of only two dozen recognized centers in the country, and we remain a part of this group. This accreditation recognizes, among other things, exemplary programming and facilities along with public access. 

2014 brought about our 25th Anniversary, and we celebrated in style! We had a celebration at the Sheboygan Yacht Club with instructors, students, board members, and supporters, and published a history book.

In 2016, SYSC, with the help of SEAS (Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan, est. 2012), hired its first full-time Program Director, an important piece of the puzzle as we worked to expand our program outside of the summer months. That summer, we provided about 150 youth and 50 adult lessons and took about 100 sailors out for group or private lessons. Things were booming!

Spring of 2017 brought about the beginnings of a high school sailing team. We started with just a handful of sailors - one from Kohler, two from Sheboygan North, and one occasional guest from Preble (Green Bay). Through the hard work of parents and sailors alike, the team began to flourish and in fall 2019, the Sheboygan North Sailing Team qualified for the Midwest Fall Championship, ranking them in the top 20 of over 100 schools with teams registered in the Midwest. The summer programs continued to expand and our youth summer and adult instructor numbers amounted to over 15 staff and volunteers. 

The coming of COVID in 2020 brought with it a well-known host of challenges for the world, but SYSC worked hard to remain a stalwart for our youth and adults who rely on sailing and time spent with friends. While we missed out on the spring sailing season, we adjusted our schedule to stagger our class times and limit interactions and had a great, safe, fun summer! Additionally, we were one of 12 sailing centers in the country to receive the Siebel Sailors Program Grant from US Sailing, which allowed us to expand our fleet (we received 6 new RS Fevas) and grow our outreach into the community. This three-year grant program gave us incredible access to staff training resources and further emphasized that SYSC's focus on using inclusivity, student voice, respect, and more to teach sailing is an effective way to energize more people and spread our passion for being on Lake Michigan. 

Following the 2020 season, we re-structured our program to take advantage of the lessons we learned on what changes youth and parents alike found effective for learning to sail. Since then, we have added several full-day camps, a girls-only camp, and a two-track approach to the program - recreational vs racing. Our high school team continues to flourish - in 2023, the team qualified for the regional finals in both fleet and team racing for the very first time!

While we continue to look to grow our program and increase the number of youth and adult sailors we serve, at SYSC we believe in putting forth a high quality program and providing an environment where everyone and anyone can feel welcome and at home. While sailing is our passion, and offering it to our community at affordable rates is our purpose, encouraging individual and team success and empowering people to be their best is our motivation. 

It has been ten years since we last took a detailed look at SYSC's history, and we are excited about the progress we have made in the years since. As of 2024, the scope of our program has more than tripled in size. We are able to offer financial assistance to families through our Support Our Sailors (S.O.S.) program and continue to develop partnerships within our community and nationwide. 

Stay tuned all year long as we take this opportunity to highlight the people, program, partners, and supporters that have made SYSC what it is today - and to hear what we have planned for the future. 

Thank you for all of our support, and we will see you at the Lakefront! 

If you spent time with us, we'd love for you to fill out this form as we collect memories, photos, and fun stories of the last 35 years: 35th Anniversary Form

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