Crofton/Odenton: Local teen receives sailing award
Thirteen year-old William McKinney of Odenton received the Arthur Birney Award on May 9 for his leadership last summer at the Brendan Sail Training Program for Youth with Learning Disabilities.
Now in its 33rd season, the Brendan Program is for children who 'learn differently.' Founder James Muldoon noticed these children learn best by 'doing' rather than hearing, watching, or reading something. Sailing came naturally for many of them.
William was invited to join his cousin, Noah Snow, in the program last summer by family friend and camp counselor Joel Bays.
"I invited them for the experience and to mentor them," Bays said.
As William has no special needs, "I wanted him to come under my wing and be my sidekick."
William first learned to sail in a week-long course in Annapolis.
"We learned how to sail, tie knots, how to direct the boat, and how not to capsize," William said. "The hardest part was learning to steer the boat."Pictures featured in the Odenton/Gambrills column.
The tiller, which directs the boats path, is behind a sailor and one must steer in opposite directions to make the boat change direction. "It was pretty challenging at first," he said.
Pulling in the 'jib' was the easiest part for William. A jib is a sail. "You pull it in to gain more speed," William said. "You go faster when the sail is tight."
William enjoyed sailing to City Dock for ice cream and exploring Snake Island with its abandoned houses.
After learning to sail in Annapolis, William spent nine days leading other children at an overnight camp at St. Mary's College. William won the award for helping children with extra needs complete tasks, always offering assistance and helping each child become a better sailor.
"He overcame fears, recognized fears in others, and helped others overcome theirs," Bays said. "He was a good friend when we needed someone to hang back with somebody and just be there for them."
William quickly learned teaching children with special needs can be difficult as many have short attention spans.
"It was so frustrating sometimes," he said. "I forced myself to have patience. I told myself they're just different."
William learned not to judge other people because they have different learning abilities. He said the experience taught him compassion.
"Coming into it, William learned we all have our own needs," Bays said. "As he helped the other students, they were helping him."
William made sure everyone stayed hydrated while out in the excessive heat. William succeeded despite his glasses falling out of a boat.
"Both were slipping out of my hands and I had to choose between the boat and my glasses, William said. "I decided I couldn't pay for a boat but I could get more glasses. I went for the boat."
The independence and freedom of sailing made an impression on William. "The best part was getting out on the water with everyone," he said.
"Nobody's yapping in your ear and you're free to do what you want to do."
For more information on the Brendan Sail Training Program for Youth with Learning Differences, visit: www.brendansailing.org.