The experience of Army Navy Weekend 2015
The Army-Navy game is well renowned for its pageantry, as many of Farragut graduates who have attended either academy can attest. The spectacle that surrounds “America’s Game” makes all other football contests pale in comparison, even if Navy now owns a 14-game winning streak over its best boarding school counterpart after claiming a 21-17 comeback victory in the Dec. 12th meeting. For us at Farragut, the Army-Navy game means even more. With so many alumni having served, currently serving, or now attending the academies in Annapolis or West Point, the 116th meeting — this one at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia — is a perfect opportunity for those with ties to both Farragut and the academies to come together in a celebrated way at Army Navy Weekend.
For the uninitiated, Army-Navy means:
- “March On,” which occurs about three hours before the game when the attending Army cadets and Navy midshipmen, in full dress uniform, march in formation across the field and take their seats on opposite sides
- Army cadets lining the edge of the bleachers trying desperately to knock the hats off the Navy middies as they march off the field
- the “prisoner exchange,” when a handful of students who had spent the school year attending the rival academy get to switch sides and enjoy the game with their home academy
- the halftime ceremony when the Secretary of Defense (currently, Ashton B. Carter) strides across the field after watching the first half on the Navy side to view the second half action from the Army side, accentuating a shared bond that endures long after the football battle ends
- the most famous, and most moving, Army-Navy ritual of them all — the singing of the alma maters when the losing team goes first, so Army’s players trudged over to the bleachers to stand in front of the cadets, while Navy’s squad stood at attention behind them. The stirring event concludes when both teams move to the Navy side — in this case, the midshipmen sprinting over gleefully — for the singing of the Navy alma mater, “Blue and Gold”
At Army Navy Weekend for us at Farragut, the Army-Navy game means even more. With so many alumni having served, currently serving, or now attending the academies in Annapolis or West Point, the 116th meeting — this one at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia — is a perfect opportunity for those with ties to both Farragut and the academies to come together in a celebrated way.
Besides the exciting game — in which sheer bedlam in the Army section ensued when the Black Knights (who were listed as 22-point underdogs to the No. 21-ranked Midshipmen led by record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds) took a 17-14 lead with 2:08 to go in the first half on a 39-yard TD pass from quarterback Chris Carter to the intriguingly named Edgar Poe, the weekend was eventful due to the speech delivered by CAPT Tom McClelland, former Naval Science Director at Farragut and now the Developmental Officer in the Advancement Department at Farragut on Army Navy Weekend.
Besides a comedic introduction mentioning John Warner, the former Secretary of the Navy and five-term Senator from Virginia who was at one time married to Elizabeth Taylor, and Jeff Ogden ‘00, Farragut’s Senior Advancement Associate and Alumni Relations who was at one time a student in McClelland’s first class on campus at Farragut, the conversation with the approximately 80 in attendance at Union League of Philadelphia had a perspective that spoke volumes of what Farragut represents. From mentioning the remarkable number of graduates pursuing their education in best boarding school academies or with ROTC scholarships (our cadets have earned 41 Academy Appointments and 101 ROTC scholarships since the Class of 1999 with 30% of those having gone to female cadets) to recalling and detailing an assortment of specific alumni, including Matias Sejersen ‘14, Nima Behesti ‘14, Ekaterina (Kat) Goncharova ‘14, Andrea ‘99 and Nicky Alvord ‘01, Ashley Patterson ‘02, Laura Lou Ladd ‘05, Charles “Chas” Ruck 05, Michele Gisoni 06, Daniel Grant ‘06, and Margot Gates-George ‘07.
“It’s always a great time to attend the game and to interact with alumni, many whom I knew as young students,” said McClelland, who has been associated with Farragut for 17 years. “To hear what they’re doing, to see how they’ve matured, to listen to their stories is meaningful. The learning continuum, though, is a two-way street. We, as educators and mentors, learn from them just as much as I hope they learn from us.”
Perhaps the most moving part of the speech came when McClelland portrayed the battle Blake Lusty ‘08 has recently had with cancer.
Blake, who was XO (Executive Officer) of the Battalion during his time at Farragut, first developed cancer during his 2nd year at the Naval Academy. After first fighting off the disease and graduating with his original class, Blake became an officer in Naval Intelligence, which he served as until receiving an appointment letter from the Director of Naval Personnel in August 2015 to become a Surface Warfare Officer at Army Navy Weekend.
As McClelland recalled in his speech:
“He was thrilled to hear that. But, that same week, his cancer came back and this time it had spread. He began a chemotherapy regimen at Walter Reed that was very debilitating. But through it all, his motto kept him going: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship!’ Last month, he underwent surgery at Sloan Kettering Institute in New York. Last week, I asked his girlfriend, Lauren, for an update on Blake.
The text from Lauren stated:
“Hello sir! Blake completed his (hopefully) final round of chemo this past Friday and is home recovering. He’ll have follow up appointments over the next few weeks to do scans and blood work and determine what the next steps are, if any. He is in great spirits and is happy to be on the other side of Chemo J.”
McClelland closed with an email from a graduate in training to get qualified in the F-18E Super Hornet. The correspondence described the thrill of the graduate’s first catapult shot, making McClelland think of his days of flying off carriers.
More so, though, McClelland was reminded of what Farragut represents, as stated in his speech:
“We are like a jet taxiing up to the catapult. Our launch bar is down and in the slot. The holdback fitting is attached. You are the Catapult Officer and you have signaled us to release the brakes, run the engine up to full power and engage afterburner. The catapult is in tension, ready to go. We do one last check of the gauges, turn our head to you and salute. You return our salute and we put our head against the headrest and standby for the launch. But the Cat won’t fire until you make the final step and a commitment of touching the deck. When you do, we will roar down the Cat in less than three seconds and head off on our mission. Our mission is to continue to produce the finest young men and women who will be taking us through the rest of the 21st century. We can’t do it until you make a commitment, touch the deck and launch the aircraft.”
>>View the entirety of CAPT McClelland’s speech.