Why and How I Fell in Love With Army Athletics

My father, a 1995 graduate of the United States Military Academy, taught me everything I know and is the base for my passion. He is the reason that eight-year-old Alex had the plan all set.

I would attend USMA, take Army baseball to four national championships, and then get drafted by the New York Yankees to embark on my future Hall-of-Fame career.

My first step closer to that dream came when I was 12 and playing baseball in a small league in Fairfax, Virginia.

My dad took me to my first Army baseball game to see them play the Yankees, and shortstop Alex Jensen came up to me and my little cousin and took us on to Doubleday Field to meet the entire team after the game.

Here I was walking on the field where I wanted to play so bad, with my favorite Army baseball player. Alex let me try on his glove and hold his bat.

As awesome as that was, it was part of a long line of interactions with Army athletics’ staff and players that led to me buying into a long future as an Army supporter. That would matter all the more as I got older and my chance to become an Army athlete was taken away from me.

2010

My love for Army athletics started in the 2010 football season when Trent Steelman broke out as the next big thing for Army football.

My family was living on Fort Belvoir at the time, and we made the drive down to North Carolina to see Army play Duke; it wasn’t my first Army football game, but it was the most excited I had been for one.

We got in the hotel and I thought I saw someone who looked like Army running back Malcolm Brown; I walked around the lobby and figured out that we were staying in the same hotel as the Army football team, and that’s when my dad and I met Major King.

He talked to my dad and then me about Army football. I told him Trent was my favorite player and he said it might be hard to meet him but he would see what he could do. The next day at the game I worked myself down to the front row since I was supposed to meet Maj. King after the game. When an Army defensive back got hurt and Major King had to leave with him, I knew I might not get my chance.

After the game was over, Geoffrey Bacon came running towards me (his family was right next to me) and jumped up into the stands, two inches away from me. I was starstruck; I couldn’t say anything so I reached my hand out for a high-five and he gave me one. He asked me how I was doing and all I could say was “good, you guys did good today.” It wasn’t a lot, but it was another Army player taking two seconds out of his day to say hi and give me a high-five.

Later that year, a few days before Christmas, I get a package in the mail from Major King, and it was a football signed by Trent Steelman! When I opened that box I started crying, I was so happy that my favorite player sent me a football. It was inscribed with “To Alex, BEAT NAVY!” and then his signature; to this day, that ball is hanging up in my room.

2011

The following March my little cousin and his family came to VA for a lacrosse tournament featuring Army, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Princeton, and Virginia.

Near the end of the Army game, I moved to the front right (sense a theme?) behind the bench, and Garrett Thul saw me and brought me on the field to meet and hang out with the entire team; they all signed a ball for me – also still in my room.

Unlike other sports, that was only the beginning of my Army lacrosse fandom, but I knew who some of those guys were and I’ve followed Army lacrosse like crazy every season since.

At the same time, Navy’s win streak against Army was going on. The Army/Navy Game was coming to D.C., so of course, my dad and I went. As the clock was winding down and I realized Army was going to lose to Navy for the tenth straight time, I was crying. While Army was singing the Alma Mater, I was singing along and the tears really started to come, in front of an entire stadium of people. No one understood how much Army football meant to me.

Next season we made the drive up for the Army/Navy Game again. I wanted to see Army end the streak and I wanted my favorite Army player Trent Steelman to sing second before he graduated, and we were so close. I’ll never forget the play. (Jump to 4:30)

Just like the year before, the tears started to stream, this time even more. It hurt more than anything knowing my favorite player would never beat Navy. I got back to the hotel and my little sisters were yelling at me “It’s only a football game, stop crying”; they didn’t know how it felt to see a team you care so much about fall short of reaching that one thing you wanted the most for them.

Sure, I wasn’t on the team, but I felt like I was. I knew this roster inside and out, numbers and names, starter or bench; those guys meant something to me that words can’t explain.

***

As if the continued streak and Trent’s graduation without beating Navy weren’t enough, I soon learned that attending USMA wasn’t in the cards for me.

My dad broke the news to me. I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t go; I had good grades, I didn’t understand it. Apparently, I just wouldn’t qualify for the academy.

I wasn’t mad but I certainly wasn’t happy; that eight-year-old kid playing baseball hoping to play at Doubleday Field was heartbroken.

I didn’t want to believe it, so I didn’t. I avoided the topic – if anyone asked me about college I’d stick with “I’m going to play baseball for Army”. I couldn’t see anything else for my future. I always thought the thing holding me back would just disappear and go away forever.

2013

Two months later it was time for Army/Navy again, and I wanted to go to my very first Army basketball games.

We got there part way into the women’s game and a bus pulled up right behind us; I quickly got out of the car to confirm my suspicion that it was the Army team bus, and I was right.

Coach Zach Spiker came out first and saw me in my Army hoodie, camo pants, and Army hat and comes up to me and put his arm around my shoulder to ask how I’m doing.

I’d never met the guy and he already made me feel like I was a part of the team, even introduced me to my favorite player, Ella Ellis.

We were at the very top of the arena and I looked down and saw one empty seat right behind the Army bench. I bolted down to that seat with one minute left and Army up by one; Navy had the ball with a few seconds left, but their buzzer-beater rimmed out and Army held on for the sweep.

After the alma maters were sung, Coach Spiker spotted me in the crowd and said, “Alex, let’s go, come with me.”

I didn’t know what was happening so I just followed him as he took me to the locker room. The team was going nuts (I nearly caught an elbow to the face from Ellis) and Coach Spiker stopped the celebration to introduce me; the team brought me in the middle of the locker room and we all celebrated the win together, screaming the lyrics to “On Brave Old Army Team” at the top of our lungs; it was one of the coolest moments of my life.

The very next weekend my dad, uncle and I bought tickets front row right behind the bench to see them against American, and as soon as Ella and coach Spiker saw me they gave me high-fives and hugs, and I got to talk with a bunch of other players.

I got to meet some of the younger players (Kyle Wilson, Maxwell Lenox, Kevin Furguson, Tanner Plumb, and Dylan Cox) when Coach Spiker brought me with the team again. I talked with them throughout that season and the rest of their careers at West Point.

2015

By my freshman year of high school, we moved down to Orlando, and I thought I wasn’t going to see any Army games of any kind for a while. However as spring break approached, I pulled up the Army baseball schedule out of curiosity, and there they were coming to Tampa that week.

I texted my parents in the middle of my world history class and asked if we could follow them around for the week, and I messaged Alex Jensen to let him know we’d be there. My dad and I drove down to Tampa for the week, and I think you know where I sat for the first game against UMass. Right next to the Army dugout.

We got there an hour early for batting practice and I saw Alex taking his swings. Once he started to walk to the dugout I called out to him, and he brought me on to the field with the team.

While I was there, they brought me in the dugout, and Harold Earls pulls out his flip cam for a video he was shooting for the school’s YouTube channel. Harold asked me to say something for the video, so I did.

I watched them win the first game, and then Coach Matt Ried called me back to the dugout to hang out between games. It was easily some of the most fun I’ve ever had since they made me feel like I was just another guy on the team. When I was in there, I wasn’t a fan, I was an Army baseball player.

Over the rest of that week, I went out on the field again and Jensen introduced my family to his; we talked with them for a while and Alex’s grandpa asked for my address so he could send me some Army stuff. Eventually, the week came to a close and it was time to say goodbye to Alex since this was the last time I’d get to see him play. We took a picture and he had the whole team sign a ball for me; we still talk to this day.

***

That day I realized I wanted to cover Army sports. On the hour and a half ride back home, I thought of ways I could do it and landed on using @West_Point_Fans on Twitter. I started modestly, not thinking that players, coaches, the AD, or other higher up Army officials would ever follow me.

I didn’t know how I would keep up with 27 different teams and everything that went with it, so I initially asked three friends to help me, but that didn’t last – they weren’t Army fans, so it made no sense for them to help with my 25 followers.

I took full control and it really started to grow; I kept up with every team and people loved it. By the 2015 football season, I had about 300 followers, more than I ever thought I’d have. The real fun was interacting with guys like Drunk Old Grad and Brave Ol Army Blog and helping each other grow.

Players and coaches started following, and I was interacting with the people I looked up to, all because of a little Twitter account, and I had 500 followers by season’s end. I thought I made it.

2016

During spring break Army baseball came back to Tampa, and now I was living there. While most of the guys I talked to graduated, I still knew most of the team and Coach Reid.

When I got there, coach had the hat they were wearing that day waiting for me and said, “Now you’re official.” He brought me to the dugout and it felt like I had never left the team, I felt like I knew everything about those guys.

Army won every game I was at and it was the last time I would see Coach Reid, as Army let him go after that season ended. If you read this coach, I thank you for making some random kid feel like he was a part of the team for two years, I will never forget it.

That small Twitter account kept growing over that summer and I eventually turned all the requests to start a website into the Black Knights Blog. I found some people to help me write articles and we started by covering Army football.

We posted a game preview for every game the week before the season started, and the Twitter account’s now 800 followers included AD Boo Corrigan – I was on top of the world.

Around that time I noticed Forgotten 5. By the time Army upset Temple in their first game, I finally reached out to join this site’s staff, and soon I was so excited, I told everyone I knew. Nic taking a chance on me truly changed my life by finally giving me a bigger platform to cover Army on than my Twitter and site allowed.

There was still that pesky streak, though. It had caused me so much pain in the past and it was looking like Will Worth (who went to my high school) was going to lead Navy against my Black Knights.

The week before the AAC championship when everyone at school was hyped about Will, I refused to root for him. Then Will broke his ankle and I felt like the streak was ending for sure.

I said earlier that I won’t be able to attend USMA but I never said why.

I have cerebral palsy, and it affects my legs and my arms. My right side is affected a lot more than my left, but both sides are still affected. Here’s a fancier explanation for the unfamiliar:

“Cerebral Palsy…is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before, during, or immediately after birth. It Palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture, and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and oral motor functioning.”

I have lived with this my whole life, and I don’t let it stop me from doing what I want to do. Sure it might take longer for me to do something physical, but I’m going to get it done. Sure I still need my wheelchair if I’m going far enough, but I’m getting there one way or another.

That’s why I struggle so much with not being able to go to the United States Military Academy. I’ve always managed to do what I want in spite of my disability, so it’s hard to have the Army take that opportunity to overcome away by declaring me “Medically Disqualified”. It sucks having your dream taken away at age 12, but I will always love Army athletics.

Army athletics and I have a deep relationship. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing for Forgotten 5, as they turned my like of sports into a love and a passion. I will never attend USMA because of my cerebral palsy, but I will always love it.

Nothing compares to an athlete at West Point. No matter the sport, they’ve always treated me like I was a part of the team – like I was family. I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for Army athletics and covering them for Forgotten 5. This story is just getting started and will only grow from here. Sure my disability will keep me out of the school, but it won’t stop me from covering them.

#BigThingsComing

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