A note to my USNA classmates: sudden recollection of midshipmen sports

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

“The meet brought midshipmen and alumni fencers, representing classes ranging from 1960 to 2013, together for competitive matches that tested each other’s wits and skills.”

I read this and wrote to Jay Eads, “Why weren’t we invited.” He replied, “Good question! Maybe they only invited alums that were wealthy as opposed to us natural athletes. I’ve never heard of this.”

PEP, P.E. and Brigade Sports
I’ve played tennis 30+ years which is just about – Grim Reaper Alert – half of our lifetimes. I’ve gotten inconsistently and progressively better for two reasons: at one point it was hard to get worse; and I play a lot because I’ve worked from a home office since the mid-1990s and the tennis club is only two miles away from said home office. Frequently, I skip noon meal formation and bolt for such a workout or declare a Youngster Afternoon to hit the clay (we have 19 clay courts)

Between you and me, I am pretty good for my age. My strokes will not be found in any How To guide and the strength of my game is my Don’t Give Up the Ship attitude….belay my last, the strength of my game is that I run around a lot, outlasting the former really good players who rely on past skill rather than running around a lot.

By now, everyone at our tennis club knows that I’m a USNA grad. I’m only more distinguished by not being either a medical doctor or a university professor, the likes of which comprise 75{915b2618a7c304f461205894c34b2284541042d3c677679407e2f30838792dcd} of our club’s membership. Because of my USNA novelty and my ‘running around a lot’ style of play, my “talent” is attributed to those days on the Severn where it is presumed that we were trained and nurtured, maybe even injected, Jason Bourne-like, to be more athlete than scholar. Such sweet irony and a reminder to distribution that Vietnam got me into the Academy not my stunningly low SAT scores. At the Academy, I became a much better student than I was in high school while demonstrating 2.0 athletic abilities. Interjection: I was never bested in any P.E. class on the Hospital Point Obstacle Course. All gravy once that I got over the rope-climb.

Whenever a tennis partner connects me with the the Navy or the Naval Academy, I’ve never replied that I was on the 4th Battalion Bowling Team in that first semester of plebe year. Nor do I describe being Paul Brandon’s motley crew on that 420 in the freezing spring waters on the Chesapeake or that I learned handball at USNA with the unexpected in-court-only spooning by Captain ‘call me Chuck on the Court (only)’ Krulak.

My younger son traded his high school lacrosse gear for a set of golf clubs when he went off to State U. Over Christmas, we played a couple of rounds. At 6’5” with modern clubs and single piece balls, he knocks it a long way. He’ll really be good and save plenty of money when he learns to hit them straight regularly. As we meandered from one shot to the next, we talked about the value of learning early in life such a sport as golf. From the library of “Hadn’t Used Those Phrases in 40 Years” presented the expression, Carry-Over Sport. Ya know, golf and tennis, as taught to us in a couple of P.E. classes in preparation for the days not too far off when one realizes that football and basketball would become, first, inconvenient, and, gradually, dangerous. I wonder if Yoga or Ultimate Frisbee is suggested as a C-O-S by the 21st century version of Coach Al Cantello?!

PEP, PE and Brigade Intramurals blurr into one frame now, although I am able still to hear Heinz Lenz and to taste the cotton-mouth of the indoor mile runs.

Baseball was my sport in high school. Played varsity for 3 years. Got cut just before the team headed to the state playoffs because I skipped practice in order to organize the senior prom party at a Bourbon Street Motel. That scheme failed also at the last minute = no baseball trophy and no party. I was ready for a change of scenery right about May 1970. I tried-out for the Plebe baseball team observing that ‘those not recruited to play’ were of a different caste than those so selected. Chopping from that far way ball field with the weird outfield dimensions back to Bancroft doused my field-of-dreams dream. And I wasn’t that good.

I tried golf Plebe Summer. Honor Offense Alert. Sobel and I never played a hole. We came-up with this plan that we’d ride the bus to the golf course, catch some Zs in the woods, arrive back in the Halls in time to miss evening meal formation (such was the bus schedule). Another scheme run-ground as it was hard to hide in the woods a) because other golfers hit their own balls there and b) White Works in July are not an effective camouflage pattern. Never visited the golf course again.

I signed-up for the 4th Batt Bowling Team in the first set of plebe year. Never attended a practice, never rolled a ball, had no clue where the alleys were even. I read in a far-gone USNA-gram that the bowling alleys closed for conversion to something of modern value. First reaction, “now I’ll never be able to return during some important reunion to reminisce wistfully about my first intramural sport that I never played.”

I remember Yorke Warden and Paul Sullivan playing Batt Flag Football. Isn’t that where Max Cranney injured, fatally it turned out, his kidney?! I played a lot of touch football in high school with me as the quarterback. Never tried it at USNA except the time that the 4/c played the 3/c in a game of tackle football on one Sunday afternoon of extreme foul weather. Such a pleasure to tackle John Yencha to the muddy ground!

I just flashed on those several classes of gymnastics in the gym which was actually some deck in a building or hall. Do you remember exercises on the rings, flips on the trampoline and rotations on the horse?! And wasn’t there some exercise for grade on the parallel bars? The average mid is about 100 pounds too large for the sport.

I still grimace in absurd memory of the mile run indoors, those 8 circles of ultimate mental anguish where laps 5 and 6 seemed to repeat themselves in imitation of Greek mythology. I can visualize the morning (my PE classes seemed to always be 3rd period) when classmate Iovanna, despite the collegial urgings of that lieutenant in his SDB, jogged to a walk, a DIW actually, right about mile marker Lap 7. The supervising LT, enraged by Joe’s failure to live-up to any one of our Reef Points published Famous Naval Sayings, discarded his SDB blouse (coat) and began to run around the track threatening that if he caught-up with Midshipman I…. Joe picked-up the pace, finished his mile run in, like the entire P.E period, and went on to the sub-squad.

The unforgettable afternoon that Art Edinger 2/c ran off of the sea wall in pursuit of a fly ball during a 3rd set softball game on Hospital Point. I recall Art as being an OK upperclassman. However, on behalf of the losers in his class that could not be so described, I was thrilled by his misadventure. Too bad Sports Center had not been invented yet. Top 10 for sure.

Don’t cry for me, Annapolis, as my Yard Jock career is not all characterized by poor planning, mis-adventure and drifting-around waiting for evening meal. I signed-up for the Batt Fencing Team in 2/c year, led by Jay Eads who manifested clear signs of his promising political savoir-faire. My weapon was the saber.

Forty-five minutes into an afternoon workout near the handball courts and the boxing rings, Coach Eads appears asking/reminding/insisting, with charm, that I join the scheduled matches topside in the fencing loft. I had forgotten about the match. My opponent was the Sabre Champion, #1 Lancer on the varsity team, A Guy Who Knew What He Was Doing. Unlike foil or epee where one touches the opponent with the point of the weapon, the saber is used in the way that we imagine boarding parties of 18th century pirates to handle their weapons in frantic combat – with fearless slashes and devastating cuts. Argh! Unlike the engagements of the Spanish Main, first one to make five touches on his opponent would win our intramural battle.

This note is much longer than I intended so I’ll give you the 140 character version. I won 5-0. Or maybe it was 5-4. But I did win.

My post-match analysis is that I achieved this intramural fame because I was thoroughly warmed-up. Thank you, speed bag. Plus, LeSaber could not have taken me seriously. Culminating my tres brief fencing career, was the sight of Coach Andre Deladrier, a fencing legend of Olympic experience, who approached Coach Eads to inquire about me. I prefer to believe that his question was in the vein of stunned admiration akin to “who was that masked man/mid.” And he could have said as well, “I’ll fry his ass if I ever see him in the fencing loft again.” Only Jay Eads would have heard this.