West Point 2018

Have you ever had an interaction with a kid and left it scratching your head?  Wondering how ill-mannered and apathetic “the next generation is?”  How many times have I politely asked for a smoothie, thanked the kid making it and taking my money, thrown a few dollars into the tip jar and got nothing in return?  And when I say “nothing,” I’m not asking for a drop-to-your-knees-giant-thank-you, I’m merely asking for an acknowledgement that we’re both on this planet and a cheery “thanks!” would do.  Well, if you want your faith restored in the people who will take over for us one day, just go to West Point and spend a little time with the cadets.

If you’ve never been to West Point, you need to put it on your bucket list.  Nestled in the Bear Mountains and surrounded by trees and cliffs, it is breathtaking.  Winding roads lead to the fortress on the Hudson, where the structures are so magnificent, it’s rumored that some scenes from the Wizard of Oz were filmed there.  Think castles and bridges and a fortress against a vast and dark sky (que flying monkeys, please!) The Academy is a military base as well.  The grounds are littered with statues, cannons, “Beat Navy” signs and beautiful brick and stone homes over -looking the bluffs of the Hudson River.  For the aesthetics alone, I’ll gladly pay my taxes.    

Every year approximately 1,300 cadets enter West Point and by the end of the year, only 1,000 remain.  That’s rough. There are fifteen men’s and nine women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sports teams. Cadets compete in one sport every fall, winter, and spring season at the intramural, club, or intercollegiate level.  Let’s not forget that the cadets are expected to maintain excellent grades as well.  While getting into West Point is a difficult endeavor, I’d imagine staying enrolled there is even harder. 

When Boots on the Court rolled onto campus for our second event at the USMA, it was a beautiful August day.  Partially sunny skies, high temperatures and humidity made for interesting conditions for the participants.  Paul Peck is the Women’s Tennis Coach.  He and his two assistants, Taylor Gaff and Volunteer Brayden were on hand to see that we got started on the right foot.  Coach Peck had four shifts of three cadet players to help with on the court duties. 

The cadets were engaging, uber- polite and respectful.  My sister Joy, Mary Evelyn and I were impressed with the candor of the cadets.  While they were humble, some shared their struggles about adjusting to life as an elite recruit at the Academy.  It sent chills down my spine and my heart went out to the girls as I wondered if I could do what they do.  Of course, I know that I couldn’t.  It seems like a lifetime ago that I competed against USMA when I played for Fordham University.  And before my kids yell, “Close the yearbook, Mom!” know that I bring up this memory not to brag and talk about me, but because as I listened to these girls, I realized that I didn’t give my counterparts so many years ago enough credit.

I can remember pulling onto the campus after an hour drive from the Bronx, stumbling off the bus with bed head, imagining that I was ready to compete.  I probably had some crappy breakfast, McDonald’s no doubt and had minimal hours of sleep.  The cadet tennis players, on the other hand, were fresh, creased and in better shape than all of us put together.  The magnitude of what they had done to get there and what they did to stay there was lost on my egocentric twenty-year-old self.  

As I sat at the Registration desk last Saturday, as a mom of kids not that much older than these cadets, the things that impressed me the most, are so different now.  While not appropriate, I want to hug each and every one of the chica cadets and tell them that everything will be ok.  That sometimes your individual journey is so much different from that of your teammates and classmates.  I wanted to tell each one of them to know when to stay in their lane, and know when to think outside the box.  Mostly, I wanted them to believe in themselves, because just the mere fact that they made it to West Point, means that they’re something special, and maybe a cut above the rest.  As a parent myself, I want to be Holden Caulfield and catch each one of them when they fall off the cliff in the rye, because there are times, no doubt, when they will stumble.  But I settled for shelling out unsolicited advice and corny clichés.  Eye roll here from my own kids.

What does it take to volunteer for a cause greater than anything you can do for yourself?  What drives someone to agree to put themselves in harm’s way to protect people she doesn’t even know?  Ask a cadet and the answers are mind boggling.  I don’t even have the words to describe what drives these brave young men and women, but I do have the vocabulary to thank them.  So, my husband and I loaded up The Beast and brought tennis to the West Point community, as our way of thanking them for all that they do.

We had a total of 90 participants for the clinics and games.  The players were so thankful and grateful for the clinics.  It’s amazing to me that these families thank us!  So, let’s be clear, what we do pales in comparison to what they do on a daily basis.  Rita Ann Jana was a repeat participant form two years ago.  She took pictures then and did it again this year.  We thank her for her talented eye that captures incredible moments.  She is a warm and sunny individual and she makes it hard to be crabby around her.  Thank you Rita Ann!  We are so looking forward to seeing you and your family next year!

Of course, we would like to thank all our pros and volunteers for helping with the event, because they are what make everything happen.  So here goes a list of everyone:

Mark Yancey
Bob and Mary Evelyn Raedish
Donna Bernstein
Jim Timmins
Steve Goldman
Howard Dorman
Dave Kozlowski aka “The Koz”
Braden Baker, Women’s Volunteer Tennis Assistant Coach
Paul Peck, Women’s Tennis Head Coach
Martha Rowley, Women’s Tennis Assistant Coach
Joy Scalisi
PJ and Matthew Scalisi

Members of both the men’s and women’s Army tennis team

As a giant aside, I would like to point out that this is the 50th anniversary of Arthur Ashe winning the very first US Open.  Let’s all take a moment to remember what he stood for and what he so eloquently fought for as well.  He was dignified in the way he chose to take a stand against social injustice.  Thank you Arthur Ashe.  You’ve brought the dialogue a long way and I only hope we can continue it today.

It would only be fitting to end this blog by calling upon the image of one of this country’s greatest statesman.  On Friday morning, Senator John McCain announced that he was stopping treatment for the aggressive form of brain cancer that he’d fought for the last year.  By Saturday, we had lost one of our greatest war heroes and politicians.  Flags all over the country were lowered to half mast, and it was no different at West Point.  On base, Old Glory hung motionless amidst the ancient cannons, guns, statues of soldiers on horses and tanks as a somber reminder that one of the last bi-partisan holdouts was gone.  We weren’t there when the cannons were shot off at 5:00, flags were lowered and Taps was played, but I know everyone standing on that campus was thinking of, and thanking Senator McCain for all that he’d done for this country.  It was an honor to be at West Point the day after his passing.  Thank you Sir, and may you rest in peace.

Until next year, USMA!