The art of the chase
High school athletes all over the country begin to prepare to be recruited around their junior year. Many of these potential recruits, have their dream all planned out. Starting with getting pursued by their first choice college. They are wowed with details of resources, scholarships, and how that college can further their athletic career in reaching a higher level in sports. Whether it be the Olympics or professional sport organizations.
Recruiting for service academies is no different. In fact, service academies recruit approximately 750 athletes per year.
The main service academies are the United States Naval Academy (Navy), West Point Military Academy (Army), and the United States Air Force Academy.
They research athletes, see if they are fit for the programs needs, and start to build a relationship with potential recruits. However, the academies wow factors tend to vary from the average college program.
Unlike most schools, service academies offer four year scholarships to all students, including athletes, because everyone is expected to meet all the same requirements for admission. Therefore, since all students are on the same scholarship, if an athlete is injured or wishes to not compete in athletics any longer, they can remain at the academy to finish their education.
The only requirement of the scholarship for all students is that they are to graduate from the academy. If they do not graduate, they will pay their tuition cost back to the government.
Additionally, if an athlete graduates from an academy, they must continue their service in the branch the went to school for.
Meaning, when you commit to an academy as an athlete, you aren't only committing your self to four years of your sport of choice but an additional five or more years of military service.
However, when you do graduate from an academy, you are not only in the military, you are usually promoted to an officer level position. Therefore, after graduation you are already well into your military career.
Not your average college experience
When you think of college, you may think of fraternities, sororities, and Animal House type parties. You may think freedom from adults and a newfound independence.
For students of service academies, that type of experience usually is far from their reality.
Many students in a service academy are not only taking the required course by law, but also military preparation courses such as hand to hand combat or water survival. They typically take 18 - 21 credit hours a semester, regardless if they are ahead of the required credit hours. Students can expect to graduate with approximately 160 credit hours during their undergraduate studies. For reference, to receive a master's degree you typically need 150 to 180 credit hours.
Due to the academic requirements set by the academy, students typically get three to five weeks of vacation from school once an academic year while other students across the country receive around three months of optional vacation throughout the year.
Athletes are no exception to the rules in a service academy. Not only are they required to meet all standards of the general student body, they are also balancing an athletic career and competition on top of their strenuous academic schedule and military training.
LIFE AFTER ACADEMY
Many athletes graduate from their respective academies, serve their military time and continue their athletic career. There are athletes from all academies whom have competed in the Olympics, NFL, and the NBA.
The academies support their students in pursuing their athletic careers. In fact, if an athlete is selected to be a part of an Olympic team, their time served preparing and competing in the games in counted towards their military service.
Famous service men and women in sports are Gregg Popovich, coach for the San Antonio Spurs, U.S Air Force Academy class of 1970. Alejandro Villanueva, offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, West Point Academy class of 2010. Brian Stann, former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, U.S Naval Academy class of 2000. Kathy Callaghan, Olympic women's handball player, U.S Air Force Academy class of 1984.