Eastern Michigan University professor recognized on the 2024 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Ballot for his love of sailing

Fries is celebrated in the sailing community as an accomplished instructor and author

Derrick Fries running in a race.
Fries completed 16 athletic events in the summer of 2023, including triathlons, regattas, and running races.

YPSILANTI — From the age of four, Eastern Michigan University professor Derrick Fries has been captivated by sailing, a sport that has brought him immense joy. His passion has led him to participate in sailing and triathlons for nearly three decades, traveling to 17 countries and 23 states as an amateur athlete. Now, his exceptional talent is being recognized beyond the classroom as a nominee for the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Ballot alongside esteemed coaches, professional athletes, and local media personalities.

“I am thrilled and honored to be acknowledged by the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, especially via a non-mainstream sport but an appropriate sport for Michigan,” said Derrick Fries, professor for Department of Special Education & Communication Sciences and Disorders at EMU. 

Fries, who lives by the motto “always stay moving,” completed 16 athletic events in the summer of 2023, including triathlons, regattas, and running races at age 70. His endurance and participation in numerous sailing championships caught the attention of fellow sailors from the Les Cheneaux Yacht Club, who nominated him for the ballot. Fries received the Michigan State University National Collegiate Title in 1973, numerous World and National Sailing Titles, and two triathlon national titles, among others. 

“I am proud to have won national titles in two different sports,” said Fries. “The small, single-handed sailboats in which I won world titles are physically demanding.”

Since the late 1950s, Fries has spent many summers perfecting his craft of long sailing and swimming at Watkins Lake in Waterford, Michigan. He’s not only known in championship circles but has also served as a US sailing master instructor trainer for 21 years and is the author of sailing textbooks, including the popular “Start Sailing Right.” Fries appreciates the popularity of the book because it signifies inclusivity. 

“I am very proud of the intellectual property rights of forever having a women helmsperson on the cover and having people of color in the textbook,” said Fries. “It took a monumental effort on my part in 1986 to make this happen and begin the inclusive efforts in a sport that desperately needed diversity. In the textbook, I invented over 24 innovative teaching techniques used today in US sailing training, education programs, and instructor certification.”

Before coming to Eastern in 2006, Fries taught for 31 years in the K-12 system and retired as a school superintendent from Avondale Schools in Oakland County. In 1986, Fries was recognized as a NASA Teacher in Space finalist and inducted into the International Sailing World Hall of Fame in 2006. Fries' contributions to sailing education are vast, having authored influential sailing textbooks, certified hundreds of instructors, and played a pivotal role in global teaching techniques.

The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame plans to announce the honorees in late spring and host an induction in early fall. 

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 13,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website

April 24, 2024

Written by:
Melissa Thrasher

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher