Elected in 2021, Northwest Intercollegiate Sailing Association (NWICSA) Undergrad President Anna Morrow took over a conference in limbo at the end of a season impacted by remote learning, canceled competitions and minimal travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For several years, the smallest college sailing district in the U.S. risked being dissolved as part of major reforms being considered by the ICSA, the 92-year old governing body for collegiate sailing. Made up of seven conferences with graduate and undergraduate representatives, the all-volunteer ICSA manages interconference regattas, championships and a hall of fame.

Morrow, a 21-year old Fidalgo Island, Wash. native, is studying recreation management and leadership at Western Washington University (WWU) and a member of the school’s sailing team. She first heard of the uncertainty NWICSA faced while sailing competitively in high school and remembers how she hoped it wouldn’t come to pass.

Anna Morrow. (Photo courtesy of Morrow)

Sailing is a niche college sport but connects with the region’s boating community in a myriad of ways. College sailors often teach youth and adult sailing courses during the summer. Some go on to run local sailing programs and community boating centers. They join race crews, own boats and work in the maritime industry.

Whether they sailed for a college in the Northwest or elsewhere, current and former college sailors are frequently engaged in boating and sailing long term.

However, even as Northwest high school sailing grew exponentially over the past five years, NWICSA struggled with participation. The region’s high school success has not translated into growth for the college teams.

“It’s hard for high schoolers to come from something that’s highly structured, organized with a lot of backing to come into college sailing that’s self-organized,” Morrow observed.

She noted that both high school and college sailing struggle with fluctuation in active teams and participation. For NWICSA, this had happened before but this time, it coincided with college sailing’s broader identity crisis.

Following her election, Morrow, along with other NWICSA leaders, picked up where previous students left off. They faced existential questions and politics that many of their predecessors never had to consider, including dissolving their own conference.

“I’m getting the real world experience,” said Morrow.