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Youth sailing program holds graduation
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Leaders D.J. Tassone, left, and Josh Leibe, right, show off their medals which had been presented to them by Father Bob Wagenseil, center.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Thirty-five young people from all over Pinellas County graduated from the Youth Sailing program held at the Calvary Episcopal Church. The group were from ages 6 to 12 and were part of a program that is ongoing, established and led by Father Bob Wagenseil, the former pastor of the church.

The graduation took place June 20 and began with a sailing demonstration for the parents and friends who gathered for the event. Then it was award time.

“I’m particularly pleased to recognize and honor the junior leaders of this group,” said Wagenseil. “They helped the other young people to learn about the team concept. It also helps them hone their leadership skills.”

Wagenseil also paid tribute to the various adult volunteers who did everything from hands-on sailing help to driving and delivering whatever the participants needed.

“I’ve often been asked what it takes or what skills one needs to be a volunteer in this program,” he said. “The fact is all you really need is to like children. You must be able to help them in whatever way they need it. You must be there for them.”

Proudly watching the ceremonies was Kristie Baxter of Largo. Her two sons, Drew, 11, and Lance, 8, were participants in the program and she said it couldn’t have come soon enough.

“I have wanted to enroll them in the program for two years,” she said. “We couldn’t get in because it was always so crowded. I thought the program was great and it was very well run.”

Baxter said her boys were so enthusiastic they brought their work home with them.

“There was rope all over the house,” she said. “They would bring home their books and study how to tie the various knots that were required and they practiced over and over again.”

She said it is likely her children will have a life-long interest in sailing and because her husband is also interested in sailing they are looking for a family program that they can all be involved in.

The oldest participant in the group was Nick Cavallaro, 12, of Belleair Bluffs. He joined the program this year with his sister Sophia, 10, and they were both recognized by Wagenseil for their help during the program.

“I got to help out a lot because I could do some things the younger kids couldn’t do,” said Cavallaro. “I can’t wait to get back at it. I’m going to try to get into the after-school program so I can be sailing all year round. I have always wanted to sail so I hope this leads to somewhere good.”

His sister was just as enthusiastic.

“It was awesome,” she said. “I don’t know if I would ever make sailing a career but I’d sure like to keep at it.”

During the ceremony Wagenseil couldn’t say enough about his two protégés. Josh Leibe, 17, of Seminole has been in the program since he was 7 years old. Now he is an assistant director of the group and is heading off to college in the fall. He’s applied to both the Coast Guard and Naval academies.

D.J. Tassone, 14, of Clearwater will step into Leibe’s shoes when he leaves. Wagenseil said he will be the next assistant director of the group.

Just before lunch, as he does at every graduation, Wagenseil asks the young sailors, “Who are you?”

Their response is music to his ears. A response he never tires of hearing.

“We’re intrepid sailors, sir!”

Then, with the formal ceremonies out of the way, it was lunchtime, and nothing helps work up a good appetite than some time on the water. The speed at which the young sailors hit the food line was testament to that.

As people left after the event, parent after parent came by to hug and thank Wagenseil for his efforts. It made him feel special.

“I feel great, I couldn’t feel better,” he said. “Anytime you can impact a life for the better then it makes life worth living. I feel humbled and blessed. This program helps bring people and families together; it has all been worth it.”

Sailing camp sessions

Summer youth sailing camps are underway at the Clearwater Yacht Club. Session 2 will begin July 14 and continue through graduation July 25. Morning class runs from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and afternoon class runs from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Session 3 will run from July 28 through Aug. 8, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Yacht Club members are invited to cheer on the young sailors and welcome parents and family members not only at graduation but at anytime during the program.
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