Ken Legler was unwittingly introduced to race management as a young boy, watching his father run regattas for Mamaroneck Yacht Club in New York back in the 1960s.
Nearly a half century later, Legler is widely recognized as one of the finest principal race officers in the United States if not the world.
Legler was recently honored by US SAILING as the 2011 recipient of the Harman Hawkins Trophy, awarded annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the sport of sailing in the field of race administration. Legler was formally presented the award during the skippers’ meeting for Quantum Key West 2012 on Sunday evening.
“It is certainly a great honor to be recognized by your peers,” Legler said. “I run races for the sake of sailors. I enjoy watching the competition and take pride in doing my part to help the participants have fun on the water.”
Legler began running races in 1974 at the US SAILING Center at Association Island, working under a true legend in Bill Benson. It was Benson who was responsible for standardizing race administration procedures through formal Sailing Instructions and starting line techniques.
“I worked under Bill for three years and learned so much,” Legler said. “He took a bunch of long-haired college kids and taught them how to run good sailboat races.”
Since then, Legler has overseen more than 40 world, North American, and national championships including such high-profile classes as the J/105, Melges 24 and Farr 40. He has served as a principal race officer for Key West Race Week since 1994 and credits Premiere Racing president Peter Craig with helping him become more professional.
“Peter Craig has been a real mentor and helped me clean up my act. He’s taught me to be more professional in my approach by doing such things as tucking in my shirt,” Legler joked.
Legler recently directed a 360-boat fleet at the Optimist New England Championships and takes pride in having set a triangle course at the 2011 J/105 North American Championships.
Legler also routinely volunteers as commentator for major team-racing events, gives seminars and lectures on racing, and has written many articles for sailing publications. In addition to his technical skills, Legler is known particularly for his competitor-friendly approach, appreciated by sailors and officials alike.
“I’ve run races all over the world for nearly four decades and Kenny Legler is without a doubt one of the best principal race officers I have ever been associated with,” Craig said. “Kenny has a true passion for the sport and that comes through in his race management style. He communicates with the sailors and feels a real responsibility to conduct fair racing.”
Legler is currently in his 32nd year as head coach of intercollegiate sailing at Tufts University. The 58-year-old Massachusetts resident runs 1,000 practice races per year in that role. He developed an even greater appreciation for those wonderful days on the water after surviving Stage 4 throat cancer six years ago.