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New Eckerd College sailing coach brings experience, leadership and a remarkable winning culture

By Tom Zucco
Published August 21, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Athletics, Student Life
An Eckerd College open sailing team practice, May 2023. Photo by Penh Alicandro ’22

He was responsible for steering the College of Charleston’s sailing teams into the same elite waters with powerhouse programs from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Dartmouth. Before he stepped down as head coach two months ago, the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association, the governing authority for collegiate sailing throughout the United States, ranked Charleston’s open sailing team 13th in the nation and its women’s team 12th.

Ward Cromwell did for the College of Charleston what Bobby Bowden did for Florida State. He transformed his teams into perennial national contenders.

Now Cromwell—and all his knowledge, experience and winning ways—has docked at Eckerd College as the new head sailing coach.

Photo of coach with text "Ward Cromwell" and "Welcome to Eckerd"

During his 19 years at Charleston, the Cougars won six Fowle Trophies as the best overall team in college sailing, in addition to 20 national sailing championships. He has produced 92 ICSA All-Americans among open and women’s skippers and crews, along with 13 ICSA All-Academic honorees. He replaces Caroline Young, who resigned in May after two seasons with the Eckerd Tritons to take a similar coaching job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cromwell has won at least one ICSA National Championship in each of the six collegiate racing classes with three match race championships, four men’s singlehanded titles, one women’s singlehanded crown, three women’s fleet race championships, six open fleet race championships, and three team race titles. His accomplishments continue with 51 conference championships and five ICSA Sailors of the Year (three women and two men).

“We are ecstatic to have Ward take over the reins of the sailing programs,” says Eckerd College Athletic Director Tom Ryan ’87.

“He is a highly respected and well-known coach in the sailing community with established success at the national level. Ward knows the Eckerd sailing programs well, having competed against us for many years, and he knows our potential and the caliber of student-athletes to recruit to excel at Eckerd. We’re looking forward to having Ward as an integral part of the Triton family.”

Cromwell’s father played a crucial role in his development as a sailor, starting with sailing on Lake Pontchartrain on the shores of New Orleans with members of the historic Southern Yacht Club. “We would also come to St. Petersburg a lot,” he explains. “At the time, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club had some of the best sailors in the world. During high school I traveled more, around the country and to Europe. I was a crew on doublehanded boats. That’s when I started to really love the sport.”

Cromwell earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Old Dominion University, where as a senior helm he helped win the ICSA Team Race National Championship. He also was named an honorable mention All-American. He then became a member of the U.S. Sailing Team, competing in the Olympic 470 class from 1999–2004.

After placing third in the Olympic Trials, he moved with his wife, Jennifer, and their two young children to Charleston in 2004. He served as an assistant sailing coach at the College of Charleston for two years before assuming the head coaching role.

“I’ve been competing against him for most of the last 19 years,” says Greg Wilkinson, head sailing coach at Boston College and a member of the ICSA Hall of Fame. “It’s been a friendly rivalry, but a rivalry for sure. He’s one of the winningest coaches in college sailing history, and I’m certain that’s going to continue at Eckerd.

“He’s extremely good at developing talent and getting that talent to win. He builds a winning culture. Every year the College of Charleston went into the championships expecting to win it, and knowing how to do it.”

But after nearly two decades, it was time for a change. “I was looking for new challenges,” Cromwell explains. “A different environment.”

What makes a successful sailing program, he says, has a lot to do with chemistry. “There are six different disciplines, so it’s hard to get the bodies that can produce the results in each discipline,” he explains. “You still need consistency to do well. One or two people can make a really big difference. But you need good sailors, and they need to be able to work well together and know each other’s strengths and how to inspire each other. That can be contagious.”

And that, he adds, can happen at Eckerd College. “We just have to grow the program right now and get more bodies out there competing,” he says. “The venue at Eckerd is one of the best in the country. Ultimately, I’d like to showcase that more often.

“If we can just get the student-athletes in and make a few tweaks … ultimately we can be competing on the national level. Hopefully, the sailors will remember the relationships they formed throughout their college experience, and the winning will come with the process.”

That will be no surprise to Yale University Head Sailing Coach Zachary Leonard. “Ward Cromwell is an absolutely top-flight coach and a great guy,” Leonard says. “I’ve known Ward for many, many years. He will bring a new level of performance to Eckerd’s sailing program and will be a great asset to your community. Ward knows what it takes to compete for and win national championships.”

Adds Justin Assad, head sailing coach at Dartmouth College, “Ward Cromwell is a proven winner, and this is a major hire for Eckerd College. Ward understands the game at a sophisticated level, yet he has the skill set and coaching experience to bring a team through the fundamental stages of building a program through to the elite level of collegiate sailing. Even more, Ward can keep his finger on the pulse of the team, and he creates an atmosphere that inspires the athletes toward greatness while keeping the tone fun and low-key. I’m excited to see what he will do with the Tritons.”