2015 ICF World Championships Slalom

Open letter Bill Endicott: “Merging USACK with ACA and doing it now is our best hope”

canoe kayak aca usack american association usa merger sportscene

Yesterday we published an article about USACK ending the partnership with ACA. The USACK board of directors however voted to resume the merger talks. Leading up to this vote a letter was distributed by Bill Endicott, which explains many of the issues and opportunities involved.

William T. Endicott - January 27, 2016

Dear Paddling Friends,

Until recently, I thought the merger of USA Canoe Kayak (USACK) and the American Canoe Association (ACA) was progressing well and that our athletes would benefit from it immediately.  But recently I was shocked to hear that the merger may not go through after all and that talks may even end in the next couple of days.

Today I signed a petition urging USACK to go ahead and complete the merger with the ACA with all deliberate speed.  Now I want to tell you in detail why I think this is so important.

In a nutshell, it’s for two reasons.  First, the short-term consequences of not doing the merger will be dire, especially as we enter an Olympic year.  And second, I believe not doing it will forfeit the ability to develop our sport in the future.

After reviewing the adverse consequences of not doing the merger, I’ll outline my vision for a bright future for our sport and how I believe merging with the ACA is the best bet for achieving it.


USACK is an organization of about 800 souls that is not only out of funds, it has some significant debts and liabilities.  By contrast, the ACA has about 35,000 members, 8,000 of whom are instructors of canoeing and kayaking, and the organization is running in the black.

Immediate Consequences

If the merger between USACK and ACA does not occur, ACA CEO Wade Blackwood, who as also been acting as USACK administrator, tells me that the following are among the major problems that will immediately arise:

  • There would no one answering the phone for questions about such things as membership, insurance, events, and financial matters relating to US teams. The ACA currently spends many hours a week on these matters.
  • This past year the ACA has spent about $180,000 in cash and kind (staff time) on behalf of USACK and that would stop.
  • The Foundation money stemming from the 1984 LA Surplus that has already been used to pay Wade Blackwood and me will be wasted if we are not allowed to finish our work based on the premise of a merged organization as being the best way to develop Slalom and Sprint in this country.
  • The ACA insurance arrangement that has been covering USACK athletes, clubs and events would have to change, resulting in more costs to USACK members.   When USACK could no longer pay for insurance at the end of 2015, the ACA stepped in to fill the void, giving everyone at USACK a free one-year ACA membership (which expires at the end of 2016).   If there is no merger then there will be no USACK insurance to revert back to. So, besides paying to be a member of USACK, athletes would also have to pay $40 a year to be a member of ACA to get the ACA insurance, or make other arrangements.  If there is a merger, then everyone would just pay the ACA dues and not the USACK dues as well.
  • The ACA would stop doing the audit of USACK that the US Olympic Committee has said is a prerequisite for receiving any USOC funds.   A couple of months ago USOC said USACK had failed to perform organizational audits since 2011 and thus is in violation of its bylaws.  Wade Blackwood then successfully negotiated for a 2-year audit in order to release USOC monies.  If the merger does not go through, USACK would have assume the job of working with the auditors to finish the audit, or risk losing all USOC funds, and it is estimated that working with the auditors would take at least 200 hours of staff time.
  • It’s unclear who would administer USACK’s finances.  Up to now, ACA CEO Wade Blackwood and his finance assistant have been doing it.  But USACK has no one else at the moment to do it, and in fact has very little money to pay anyone to do it. This could well mean that funding for our US teams this year, including the Olympic team, could become badly snarled and not delivered on a timely basis, if at all, because USOC-required reports were not done.   This could mean that USACK coaches and athletes might have to pay expenses out of their own pockets and then seek reimbursement later, which has actually happened in the past when USACK did not file reports on time and USOC funds were held up.
  • Someone other than the ACA would have to pay the approximate $6,000 - $7,000 cost for accreditations to the Olympics beyond the ones USOC will pay for.  (The money goes for room and board at the Olympics and uniforms, etc.) For the Slalom team, for example, so far USOC has approved 2 accreditations although it will pay for only one.  (I don’t know what the situation is regarding the Sprint team.)
  • The chore of handling Olympic tickets would revert to USACK.
  • USACK/ACA bought $10,000-worth of tickets to the Rio Olympics.  If there is no merger, USACK would have to assume the job of selling these tickets and then paying USOC for them.
  • There will be no travel budget for our Olympic athletes, even the two who placed 3rd and 4th at last year’s Slalom World Championships, and who are thus bona fide medal contenders at Rio.  If there is no merger, they will have to pay their own way to training camps in Rio and to World Cup races.  Similarly, if there is no merger, we won’t be able provide any organizational support for our Sprint athletes as they try to qualify Olympic slots in May. 
  • USACK is facing a $41,615.88 IRS back tax liability for failure to pay employee withholding in 2011.  Either USACK will have to pay it or spend many hours battling the IRS to resolve the matter.


In the Spring of 2015, the ACA hired me as a part-time consultant to advise with the merger with USACK, particularly as related to the Olympic arms of our sport, Sprint and Slalom.  

If there is no merger, two of the long-term projects that I recommended to the ACA, and which we have already embarked on, would have to cease:

  • RacerQuest.  Five years ago the USACK board of directors asked me to develop a talent-id/introduction to Slalom and Sprint canoeing and kayaking, now called RacerQuest, that I had been promoting.  After spending hundreds of hours researching and developing the program and even holding three pilot events to show how well it worked, USACK decided not to use it.  They said this was because a) they didn’t feel they had the staff to run it and b) they didn't think they could train more coaches to coach the kids brought in through RacerQuest.

At that time, -- five years ago now -- the ACA told me they were also interested in RacerQuest and with 35,000 members they thought they could help administer it.  When the ACA hired me last Spring, reviving RacerQuest was the first thing they asked me to work on and we had a RacerQuest event in Oklahoma City this past June with the intent of now doing multiple RacerQuest events around the country in 2016 and every year thereafter. (Manual for how to put on a RacerQuest event available upon request.)

Not only that, but the ACA said they thought it would be possible to interest as many as 1,000 of their 8,000 ACA instructors to become coaches of elementary Slalom and Sprint and coach the kids brought in through RacerQuest if I developed a program to train them to do so.  I was and still am excited by the potential of such a program because I knew I could build on the extensive experience those instructors already had teaching canoeing and kayaking.  In other words, they were already canoe and kayak coaches and now all they needed was some additional training in how to coach a variation of the sport.  The young kids and the new entry-level coaches we get into the sport would be part of what I would call RacerCorps, our new cadet program.

In October the ACA invited me to make a pitch to about 100 of their Instructor Trainers at the ACA IT conference in Charleston, South Carolina, to interest them in coaching elementary Slalom and Sprint.  The ITs are the ones who train the 8,000 ACA instructors.

At that conference I unveiled a 162-page draft of a base-level manual (copy available upon request) that would give people who knew nothing about Slalom and Sprint enough information to begin coaching kids, say 8-14, who were brought in through RacerQuest.  I got an overwhelming response both at the conference and then later in emails from ITs who said they wanted to do this.   Sportscene TV told me they would give me videos to illustrate the manual and have already started to do so.

I also put together an outline for a Level 1,2,3 coach education course (copy available upon request) for both Slalom and Sprint that the ACA asked for and that would build on the base-level manual.  I did this based on my knowledge as a coach and my knowledge of having done this for China and Britain leading up to the Beijing Olympics, Britain again leading up to the London Olympics, and Australia, and by getting input from the USOC. 

The outline consists of 8 pages of descriptions of the 29 modules that would be taught at Levels 1, 2, and 3, plus a 34-page annotated bibliography of books, articles, and other resources pertaining to slalom and sprint. 

If the merger between ACA and USACK does not go through, all of this work -- RacerQuest, RacerCorps, coach education-- would be forfeit - and with it, I fear, hopes for the long-term development our sport so desperately needs.

With 16 medals available to canoeing and kayaking in the Olympics, making it the 6th-7th (out of 30) most medal-rich sport in the summer Olympics, and with USACK usually not winning any medals, one could legitimately argue we rank as the worst-performing US NGB in the summer Games.  The conclusion: we need to get out of the doghouse and onto the podium.


I personally would like the see the following things happen in Sprint and Slalom in the USA, but I think they are possible only through a merger of the ACA and USACK:

  • HAVE OPEN FORUMS.  Under the aegis of the ACA there should be democratically elected Slalom Committee and Sprint Committee, each with subcommittees.  These would be the forums in which issues in the sport could be brought to the fore, budgets discussed and decided on, and all decisions made in an open way and communicated in a regular manner both by posting on the ACA website and by communications sent out by committee members.

In the past there has been the complaint that such committees often do not do their jobs properly and that has some validity.  To address this, Wade Blackwood came up with what I think is a good idea, hiring a “Committee Facilitator.” 

This would be an ACA staffer whose job it was to ensure all Slalom and Sprint Committees met regularly, set up the conference calls to do so, issue agendas well ahead of time, make sure the committees decided what they were supposed to decide, keep minutes of the meetings, and post them on the ACA website.

Having open forums like this (with the discipline of Wade’s idea for an events facilitator) is, I believe, essential for rebuilding trust and confidence in our organization.  People need a place to bring issues and to vent.  Yes, democracy can be a messy business, but it’s as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst system in the world -- except for all other systems!”

  • EMPOWER VOLUNTEERS.   Let’s face it, our sport is and for the foreseeable future has to be, run by volunteers.  Yes, there may be a few paid professionals, but there just isn’t the money and won’t be at least for a while, to do more than that.  But all too often in the past, there has been a tendency at USACK to discourage volunteers in the belief that paid professionals should be the only ones running the sport. 

In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that even if we had the resources someday to run a $2-3 million Slalom and Sprint program, we should still be making ample use of volunteers.  

That’s because I agree with General Jimmy Doolittle: “There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer!”  I know because I’ve often been one and I’ve worked with many good ones over the almost 50 years I’ve been in this sport.

The ideal is to find volunteers whose pet project is directly in synch with what the organization as a whole needs to do and then not only give them free reign to push ahead, but also to actively encourage them and praise them.

In short, we need to aggressively invite volunteers back into our sport and offer to equip them with what they need to be successful.

  • BUILD TOWARD SUSTAINED COMPETITVE EXCELLENCE.   In the past, lip service has been paid to this goal, but long-term actions have not been taken to actually bring it about, or, for the most part, even to realistically discuss it.

I believe our goal should be to achieve 3 medals in each Olympics, one in Slalom and 2 in Sprint (because they have three times as many events as Slalom does, 12 vs. 4).  The goal should not be just the occasional medal once in a generation.

Why should 3 medals be the goal?  Because we've done it in the past and I think we can do it again.  In 1988 we won 2 golds in Sprint.  In 1992 we won 3 medals, one in Sprint and 2 in Slalom (plus we got 4 fourth places that year, 2 in Slalom and 2 in Sprint.)

But we need to do this on a consistent basis.  To do it, we need to attract more good athletes into our sport (RacerQuest) and we need to ensure that they get good coaching right from the start (RacerCorps).  If we do these things, I suspect that before too long, we will be regularly placing high in the Junior World Championships in Slalom and Sprint. And a few years later, we will be winning medals consistently in the Senior World Championships and the Olympics.

  • RECONNECT WITH OUR BASE.  For too long USACK has been isolated from the main base of our sport, which is represented by the ACA more than by any other organization.  This has led to a shrinking membership in Slalom and Sprint, a membership that is actually smaller now than when I first got into the sport in 1968. 

Well, then why did USACK split off from the ACA in the first place?  Back in the 1990s, the USOC didn’t like what they called “multipurpose NGBs.”  They feared that big NGBs would not adequately service the Olympic arms of the sports in question.  So, they forced USACK to split off from the ACA and at least one other NGB, USA Shooting, to split off from the NRA.  I don’t know how this has worked out for USA Shooting, but the past has proven that it has not worked out well for USACK. And now the USOC recognizes this and is in favor of USACK merging with the ACA.

Finally, the idea of merging is at least 5 years old.  It’s not new.  All the issues have been beaten to death.  We should act now.

  • USE THESE THINGS TO MAKE THE ORGANIZATION ATTRACTIVE TO SPONSORS.  Yes, we need to raise money to build the kind of organization we ultimately want to see.  In fact, we will have to build up to about a $1.8 million and then to a $2.8 million organization instead of the $400,000 organization we have now.  But if we embark on the things I’ve mentioned above, I believe it will lay the groundwork for successful fundraising because as people see us pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and trying to win, they will want to get involved.

For all these reasons, both to avoid the bad short-term consequences and to provide the opportunity for revitalizing our sport, I hope you will agree with me that merging USACK with the ACA and doing it now is our best hope.


Bill Endicott