MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A recently formed sailing club is now being offered to kids on Muskegon Lake. 

The Jolly Madison Sailing Club formed last year. The founders, Bill Sleeman and Burton Cardwell, say last year they taught students in the YMCA’s Camp Manitou-Lin in Middleville. The sailing club is now available to students at the Boys and Girls Club of Muskegon. 

“I got involved in sailing at 9 years old. Interestingly enough, it happened here in Muskegon,” said Cardwell.

Cardwell says his father taught him to sail, but it’s not a sport everyone has access too.

Since he started sailing, Cardwell has been able to meet many milestones. He completed his first race from Chicago to Mackinac Island at the age of 30. Cardwell says he recently completed his 25th Chicago to Mackinac race, which is a very rare accomplishment for sailors. Cardwell says to his knowledge, he is the first African American sailor to accomplish the goal. 

“There’s this misconception that people of color don’t sail and if some of these kids can kind of take that and flip it on is ear, that would make my heart swell,” said Cardwell.

Cardwell and sailing club co-founder Sleeman are now sharing their passion with kids at the Boys and Girls Club. In addition to physically learning how to sail, the students are getting lessons on the science behind sailing. Instructors say it’s a part of the STEM component offered in the lessons. 

“For me, it’s great to see because … they’re trying something new or overcoming a fear,” said Randy Vander White with the Boys and Girls Club as he watched students out on the lake. “They see the lake continually but to actually be on the lake, this is a first-time opportunity for many of them just due to the access to a boat or sailboat.”

In the last year, the club has been able to teach dozens of kids. Instructors say they hope it’s a sport they can continue teaching in the years to come.

“One of the things that’s special is they don’t know they’re learning,” said Cardwell. “Watching the kids’ excitement when they finally get the sail to do what they wanted it to do or what they were taught to do, that for me is just an amazing thing to see in their eyes.”

The Jolly Madison Sailing Club classes will end at the Boys and Girls Club of Muskegon on Aug. 19. Cardwell and Sleeman say they’re hoping to bring the program back next year. They also hope to bring the club to other lakeshore cities in West Michigan and are taking donations online to support that effort.