Short URL for this page:
The Board of Examiners recommended a naval school in 1845 in order that "none but the meritorious will find their way into the Navy." Bancroft established the school "to improve the character of the younger branch of the service." Buchanan dropped a midshipman whom he did not think would be an ornament to the service. Admiral D. F. Sellers stated in 1935 that "the Naval Academy . . . was created and exists for the sole purpose of training officers to fight the United States fleets." Rear Admiral Wilson Brown, who succeeded Admiral Sellers, asserted that midshipmen must be prepared on graduation to be "capable mariners and useful junior officers . . . in the fleets." His successor, Rear Admiral Russell Willson, in a message to the Regiment, said, "I like to think of you, gentlemen of the Regiment, . . . as young naval officers." In addressing the graduating class of 1941, Admiral Willson reaffirmed the statement of Admiral Sellers that the Naval Academy exists "for one purpose only, . . . to train officers to fight the fleets of the United States," adding grimly that there was an immediate possibility the class of 1941 might have "the quality" of their Academy training put to the test.1
To understand the Academy, it is necessary to remember the reason for its existence, and that it is only a part of the p155 educational system of the Navy. The Navy Department controls the courses at the Academy and fits them in to other educational and training programs for commissioned officers. The Academy is the foundation of the Navy's educational system, and its subordination to the Department adds to its importance by making it a national institution. It must prepare midshipmen to perform certain specific duties on shipboard, accustom them to naval discipline and to the seemingly endless drills necessary aboard a man-of‑war, and give them an educational foundation for their higher duties. Midshipmen are not finished with books on graduation day; they have only commenced to study. Throughout their careers they must continue to learn, and to teach and train others.
After graduation, ensigns will be assisted by the senior officers on their ships as they were at the Academy, but to a lesser degree. They will be expected in large measure to improve themselves. The emphasis in the fleets will be on training, not on education. The ship's duties will take precedence over the development of officers, and a junior officer must find the time to study new naval developments without neglecting his routine duties.
To meet its obligation to provide junior officers for the American fleets, the Superintendent, his officers, and instructors strive to develop midshipmen with alert minds and sound bodies, loyal, disciplined, educated, fit to accept ever larger initiative in the execution of orders, ready and eager to prepare themselves for higher responsibilities. The Academy authorities encourage the natural high sense of honor in midshipmen and strive to develop in them a bold, enterprising spirit, an ardent desire to contribute to the glory of the Navy, and a willingness to sacrifice life itself for the nation.
As all midshipmen are preparing to become junior p156 officers in the Navy they must necessarily take the same course after entering the Academy. Their instruction is practical rather than theoretical, and they are well grounded in the theory of certain essential subjects. They are not expected to become experts in all technical subjects in four years, but midshipmen must obtain the elements of these subjects. They must also learn how to continue their studies unassisted, to "dig" for themselves, and to acquire the art of leadership, the foundation of which is the ability to inspire respect among the men whom they may some day command in battle; leadership can never be attained unless officers are manifestly competent to perform their own duties.
In 1818 the Board of Navy Commissioners established a high standard for midshipmen aspiring to be lieutenants. Each midshipman had to satisfy every member of the Board of Examiners that he was competent to be a proper lieutenant. In 1846 Secretary Bancroft ordered the Board of Examiners to be present when the Academic Board held the first examination at Annapolis to insure that previous standards should be maintained. Thereafter the Board of Examiners visited Annapolis during June Week to satisfy themselves of the professional competence of the graduating class. By 1855 the system of relentless examinations had been firmly planted at Annapolis. Sixty members entered with Dewey in 1854; twenty-three dropped out the first year and only fifteen of the sixty graduated. During the Civil War the high standard was maintained at Newport. Over half the midshipmen who entered failed to graduate.
Examinations are as much a part of the academic system to‑day
The academic courses at the Academy have been altered to keep pace with the changes in the naval profession, but the subjects taught, though enlarged and more advanced, have evolved naturally from those taught in 1851. There p157 are now ten departments under the immediate supervision of the Superintendent: (1) Executive, (2) Seamanship and Navigation, (3) Ordnance and Gunnery, (4) Marine Engineering, (5) Mathematics, (6) Electrical Engineering, (7) English, History, and Government, (8) Languages, (9) Physical Training, and (10) Hygiene. The emphasis is still on mathematics, navigation, ordnance, seamanship, and engineering; the last now embraces all phases of engineering but is still treated from the point of view of motive power for naval ships. French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Portuguese are taught. Approximately 22 per cent of the academic work is devoted to professional subjects, 51 per cent to mathematics and the sciences, 27 per cent to other subjects.
When the Naval Academy was founded, the entrance examinations were purposely limited to elementary subjects — reading, writing, and arithmetic — to enable young Americans with native intelligence who had been denied educational advantages in their youth to enter. In 1863, the educational facilities in the nation had sufficiently improved to justify entrance examinations in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography, and English grammar. By 1883, algebra and United States history were added, and in 1899 plane geometry and world history. From the beginning the entrance examinations have been thorough and they grew more searching, not from malice, but to save a candidate who can not hope to graduate the time and expense involved in entering and failing.
Between 1900 and 1925 there was a steady advance in educational facilities throughout the country, with a corresponding increase in the entrance requirements of colleges. Candidates for the Naval Academy usually had finished some of the subjects given in examinations and during the first year at the Academy. In 1923‑25 the entrance p158 examinations were raised to embrace English, United States history, ancient history, algebra (through quadratics, including the progressions, and the binomial theorem), plane geometry, and physics (one year's work).2
The increasing number of prospective candidates from the colleges created another problem. The entrance examinations included subjects that candidates had completed; to prepare for an Annapolis examination it was necessary for them to drop their college course and review the subjects required for entrance. At the same time statistics showed that a year's work in college was excellent preparation for the Academy, better than three to six months' cramming at a preparatory school. Since the sole purpose of the entrance examinations is to test the abilities of the candidate to remain in the Academy, the academic authorities came to permit the entry without mental examination of a regularly enrolled student in good standing in a university, college, or technical school. This provision prevented the interruption of college work to prepare for an examination.3
Until 1923 the last month of each four-month term was utilized to review the recitations of the previous three months. At the end of review months the semi-annual and annual examinations were held. In 1923, review months were discontinued.
Examinations are now held at the end of each term or on the completion of a particular subject. The examinations are still severe and searching. The recitation system followed by examinations is the Academy's scholastic method to‑day, as it was in 1846, but there is much more instruction p159 given in the classroom than there was formerly. Instructors are encouraged to employ about half the period in explaining the difficult parts of the lesson, devoting the second half to recitations by the midshipmen. If a lesson is unusually formidable, an instructor is authorized to employ the whole period in explanation; in this case no marks can be awarded for the day. In the Navigation Department, which usually has three periods a week, this allows one entire period a week for instruction if it is considered necessary. The practice in departments varies, but they all provide classroom instruction.
Prior to the beginning of each academic year the heads of departments, with their senior assistants, outline the scope of the year's work to the instructors, go over the course in detail, and emphasize the salient features which must be imparted to the midshipmen and upon which they will be examined. The instructors then prepare themselves to carry out the program. Civilian instructors are all experts, many of long experience, but they have to continue their studies, for the courses are constantly changing. The officer instructors come from the fleets, are acquainted with the technical subjects from a practical point of view, and have had much experience in instructing junior officers and petty officers aboard ship. Officers have been trained to impart information to others, but they are not always familiar with the textbooks and the latest developments in some of the subjects they are called upon to teach. They study harder the first year ashore than the midshipmen, for they must be prepared to answer all questions asked. Throughout the academic year, heads of departments visit the classrooms to make sure that midshipmen are being properly instructed.
The Academic Board, consisting of the Superintendent, the Commandant, and the heads of all departments, is the p160 court of final resort in all academic matters. After each head of department has prepared his program of instruction and drills and has outlined the scope and content of his course, the Board meets to allot the time in the very tight scholastic schedule. Often there is a struggle between two departments for instruction and drill periods. When a decision is made, it is loyally accepted, and then the Board fits the various courses into one another to avoid duplications and to obtain the necessary overlap between cognate subjects. The Board must insure that the midshipmen are given a comprehensive education in the subjects they will need immediately after graduation. Throughout all the planning and discussion of the various courses, the Superintendent keeps the purpose of the Academy in front of the Board. The final decision between two departments is determined by the question, "Which course will do more toward preparing midshipmen for their duties in the fleets?"
The Academic Board is accused every year, by a few Congressmen whose nominees have failed, of being too severe; it is criticized by some collegiate authorities because its courses are too elementary and lack cultural and optional subjects. Generally speaking, the members of Congress most familiar with the Academy have supported the Board against attacks from both directions. The Board of Visitors always includes college or university presidents who know from experience the number of semester hours a student can work; they scrutinize the Academy curriculum carefully. Practically all of them agree that the course is well designed to meet the Academy's primary mission of preparing young Americans to become junior officers in the American fleets. That is the reason Congress makes appropriations for its support, and it is the only justification p161 for the annual expenditure of taxpayers' money to educate a particular group of young men.
When the entrance requirements for mathematics were increased, it enabled the Academic Board to shorten the course in pure mathematics from three to two years. The time saved was distributed among the professional subjects — ordnance, navigation, seamanship, marine and electrical engineering. Practically all these subjects involve the constant employment of mathematics; no midshipmen is under the delusion that he finishes this subject at the end of his second year.
German and Italian were added to the course in languages in 1930, and Portuguese some years later. Among the extracurricular activities are the Language Clubs, sponsored by the Language Department. Each club has a reading room provided with newspapers and periodicals in the language studied. Midshipmen especially proficient in any language are designated as "interpreters" by the Department. Americans are notoriously poor linguists, largely because English has become almost a universal language. The Office of Naval Intelligence provides special courses in Japanese, Russian, Chinese, and other languages to junior officers of the Navy and Marine Corps to prepare them for duty at naval attachés. An officer must be proficient in all the subjects taught at the Academy, but the command of one particular language is a valuable asset to a young officer, and it will help any midshipman to qualify as an "interpreter."
The career of the brilliant Michelson has been an inspiration to the Electrical Engineering Department which has probably changed more than any other department in its determined effort to keep up with the continual improvements in electricity. This department has attracted some of the finest naval minds. Admiral Sampson was identified p162 with it throughout his life; Dr. N. M. ("Cit") Terry and Professor "Navy Paul" Dashiell, long identified with the "Skinny Department," taught class after class of midshipmen who did not entirely appreciate the advantages to a seafarer of chemistry and physics. Most midshipmen first knew "Navy Paul" on the football field, for he coached the team for years. "Navy Paul" Dashiell gave powerful support to Academy athletics before the advantages of systematic physical exercise were generally recognized, and he will be remembered for this contribution long after his demonstrations that hydrogen and oxygen make water are forgotten.
The English and history courses were much improved in 1923 when the entrance requirements were raised. Since that time the Department has given an advanced course in composition and a course in English literature culminating in current English and American authors. Naval history has been broadened to include a study of sea power among the leading naval nations, and its influence on history, thus making Mahan's thesis and the reasons for a navy plain to young officers at the commencement of their careers. On Friday evenings, lectures on currents subjects and present‑day history are given by recognized contemporary authorities.
Many of the instructors and professors, and frequently the heads of the English and History departments, have been civilians. When they decide to remain at the Academy, they know they can never aspire to be Superintendent; at most they can hope to become head of their own department. And they must subordinate that department to the general educational plan of the Academy, which is primarily a technical school with the specific purpose of training midshipmen to become junior officers of the Navy. Civilian heads of this department, from Chaplain George p163 Jones to Doctor C. S. Alden, and the great majority of the professors and instructors, have loyally contributed to the Naval Academy.4 Instructors assist midshipmen in editing the Log, Reef Points, the Trident, and the Lucky Bag. They sponsor the after-dinner speeches of the First Class, and for years have served on the editorial staff of The Naval Institute. The Navy before the Naval Academy inspired the same loyal spirit among most of its instructors and chaplains; it is impossible to read the reports and accounts of Chaplains Hunter, Thompson, and Wines, and the manuscript history of the Academy by Professor Thomas G. Ford, and not realize their deep affection for the naval service. To‑day the civilian staff of the English Department enters fully into the lives of midshipmen.
Between 1798 and 1845 the daily routine of exercise at the guns and sails, the necessary evolutions in an average day at sea, could be relied upon to develop every muscle in a midshipman's body and to produce continual mental alertness. The hand-to‑hand combats that characterized much of the Navy's fighting of that early period demanded and developed physical fitness, keen mental reactions, and a fighting spirit. No American midshipman could hope to distinguish himself in the fighting tops, at the end of a yard‑arm, at the battery, or in boarding or repelling boarders, unless he was alert mentally, physically well developed, and trained in the use of the cutlass, pike, and tomahawk as well as the pistol.
Before being warranted, midshipmen were examined physically to ascertain whether they could perform the arduous duties at sea.a All our early leaders insisted that midshipmen be physically fit. Commodore Rodgers recommended in 1816 that midshipmen, who then entered at a p164 tender age, be taught the sword exercise as soon as they possessed sufficient strength. When the naval school was established, Commander Buchanan urged that a sloop-of‑war be stationed at Annapolis to provide recreation and exercise as well as sail drill.
After 1851 there was always a sloop-of‑war either at Annapolis or at Newport. Seamanship, gunnery, pulling boats, and later infantry and field artillery drills were depended upon to keep midshipmen fit until Admiral David D. Porter organized athletics at the Academy in 1866. He encouraged boxing and occasionally engaged in a bout with a midshipman, at the risk of his aquiline nose. He organized baseball teams, which played match games every Saturday afternoon, and race-boat crews which became famous in 1869‑70. In 1867 athletic carnivals were held at the Academy, including track and field competitions, baseball, rowing, and gymnastics.
Admiral Porter also evoked the spirit of competition in athletics. During a practice cruise up the Hudson, he encouraged the midshipmen to challenge the cadets at West Point to boat races and a baseball game, and suggested to the Superintendent of West Point a competitive infantry drill between the two battalions. Admiral Porter aroused a competitive spirit which reached its first climax in the early 1890's in the annual football game between the two academies.
Midshipman Vaulx Carter organized the Annapolis football team in 1881‑83. The Navy won its first game against the Clifton Football Team of Baltimore, 8 to 0. It was not a propitious time to begin football: upperclassmen were hazing more than usual; Commander Ramsay was beginning his series of reforms; Congress combined the midshipmen and cadet engineers into an unwanted union and legislated graduates out of the service.
p165 By 1887 the physical condition of the midshipmen attracted unfavorable comment from visiting alumni and, inspired by Colonel Robert M. Thompson, class of 1868, they formed a Navy Athletic Association. In 1890 the first football game with West Point was played. The fierce rivalry displayed in the next two games caused President Cleveland to prohibit the Army-Navy games, but they had aroused interest in athletics at both academies and raised the standard of service teams. Colonel Thompson quietly began to plan for their revival, and in 1899 the second series of Army-Navy games began.
The natural attraction of football and the spirited rivalry between the two academies was enough to give an impetus to all forms of organized athletics at Annapolis. Eventually support from the Naval Academy alumni, as well as the gate receipts from football contests, financed the other non‑profit-making teams. Any naturally active midshipman could find outlet for his energies in athletics. Strong midshipmen were made stronger. All midshipmen improved physically from the regular hours, the plain, substantial food, the setting‑up exercises, and the infantry, field artillery, gunnery, boat, and seamanship drills. Those who were undeveloped, and for that reason hesitated to try for a team, did not directly benefit from the athletic program.
Beginning in the eighteen sixties, Matthew Strohm for forty years gave all midshipmen a start in gymnastics, a lesson or two in swimming, and a smattering of boxing and wrestling. Commencing at the same time, Swordmaster Corbesier gave fencing, broad sword, and single-stick exercises to all midshipmen for over fifty years. Pulling an oar, seamanship, infantry and artillery drills, hauling on the ends of the halyards, and hoisting boats built up some of the muscles of all midshipmen, but too many graduated in flabby condition. The Academy became p166 aware of the situation and initiated various measures to make physical exercise more general. In 1923 the Department of Physical Training was created and was given the task of encouraging every midshipman to come out for some team. Gentle pressure was put on sedentary scholars by prescribing cross-country hikes, led by long-legged, fast-walking officers.
To‑day physical training at the Academy fits the graduate for a long period of healthful service in the Navy, and also qualifies him to superintend the organized athletics in the fleet and coach the teams of enlisted men. As a result of the system at the Academy, athletics in the fleet have been systematized, and the physique and morale of enlisted men have been improved by the organization of ship, division, squadron, and fleet teams modeled after the academy teams. Practically all enlisted men have had two years at high school; many are high-school graduates. They are accustomed to high-school athletics and drop into the Navy's athletic system without any trouble.
The physical requirements of midshipmen are now prescribed for entrance, and a minimum of physical development is required each year until graduation. Standards must be met in swimming, muscular strength, jumping, running, correct posture, boxing, wrestling, and dancing. Fourth Classmen are instructed in football, baseball, crew, track and field, basket-ball, lacrosse, fencing, gymnastics, water polo, tennis, soccer, handball, squash, and calisthenics. Each succeeding year in the Academy, midshipmen must show improvement in swimming, strength, gymnasium, and posture. Second Classmen are taught to officiate at athletic contests, and First Classmen are given a course in coaching athletic teams. The physical improvement among the mass of midshipmen has not lowered the competitive standard of the Academy teams. Football, crew, baseball, and first p167 other organized teams which represent the Academy in extramural contests have done better since athletics were made universal.
The athletic system is simple but comprehensive. Every midshipman, on entrance, is encouraged to come out for the plebe (freshman) team of his favorite sport. He can pick from among eighteen different sports, ranging from football, crew, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, track, and swimming to fencing and golf. If he qualifies, he automatically becomes a candidate for the Navy (varsity) team in his Third Class year. If he does not qualify for the plebe team, he can find a place in intramural sports. In nearly every Academy sport there is also a battalion team similar to a collegiate intramural team. Each of these battalion teams requires a second team to practise against. The battalion teams provide opportunities for over 90 per cent of the midshipmen. The purpose of battalion sports is to get every midshipman to try for a team.
Football is the king of sports in the autumn. There are Navy, plebe, and battalion teams. The Navy team has a heavy schedule, playing three or four major teams such as Princeton, Pennsylvania, Cornell, and Notre Dame annually. The big game is with Army, and the Regiment usually judges a team on the result of that game.
The Navy's soccer team has been very successful. Those who have played soccer claim that there is no sport like it to build "leg and lungs." Even a spectator can testify that there is plenty of running, fighting, and good solid exercise in soccer, and the gallery has enough to watch.
Basket-ball, invented as a "filler in," has made its own place at Annapolis as shown by the steadily increasing attendance in the galleries. The Navy has made its place among the top‑ranking eastern teams and can be depended upon to have a scrappy squad. Another early fall indoor p168 sport is wrestling, which is a certain body builder as a doubting Thomas can discover by feeling the torso of any seasoned wrestler. Wrestling demands stamina, skill, courage, and determination. The head coach gives up‑to‑the-minute instruction to the veterans; the assistant teaches the elementary technic to the plebes. Candidates for both teams commence training in the early autumn and continue until March.
The small-bore rifle team has the highest competitive standing of any Academy sport, winning all but two of its dual matches in five years, and the intercollegiate championship oftener than any other team. The plebe team is depended upon to get an intercollegiate championship. The Academy system of coaching can claim the credit, for 75 per cent of the candidates have had no previous experience. There is a well-lighted small-bore gallery, and the records show that the eyes of members of the team improve. The practice on the rifle range during plebe summer (the first summer at the Academy) is a natural preparation for the small-bore competition, which leads to its big brother, the outdoor rifle. If a plebe is doubtful about making a satisfactory mark in recitations, he can study during the afternoon and still come out for small-bore rifle.
The rifle team is the only Navy sport open to plebes because it does not enter intercollegiate contests. The team competes with the sharp-shooting Marines and crack National Guard teams. The contestants have to make an almost perfect score to gain a place on the team, and the methods of instruction and training have produced marvelous results. Members of the Academy rifle team are almost certain to be detailed to coach the rifle teams of the ships to which they are ordered.
After preliminary instruction with rifles,
Broadside drill in the gun shed overlooking the bay is
Swimming is another "natural" sport for midshipmen. The gymnasium in Macdonough Hall has a tank for training p169 beginners; in addition, the Academy has one of the largest natatoriums in the country, and the Athletic Association furnishes excellent coaches. Ten years ago the Academy team won the national championship, and is now seeking to regain it. Before water polo was dropped from intercollegiate sports, the Academy teams were among the champions. The ability to swim is particularly important, for in time of peace the Navy loses more men by drowning than by any other single cause. Although many victims are strong swimmers who become overconfident, or who fall overboard in a strong tideway with clothes and heavy shoes on, others drown who could be saved if they could stay afloat a short time. The Navy makes systematic efforts to teach every enlisted man to swim. Ensigns who have been on the swimming team at Annapolis are in demand as coaches when they arrive in the fleet.
Fencing and sword exercises have been a necessary part of a naval officer's training since the days of Commodore John Paul Jones, who included instruction in the use of the sword in his program for three naval schools. Commodore John Rodgers and all other officers who recommended a naval academy prescribed instruction in the use of the sword as a matter of course. If a midshipman was not skilful with the sword or pistol in the era of dueling, he might not live to get his commission. To‑day fencing is one of the more popular sports at Annapolis. Navy teams have won high standing with the foil, the épee, and the saber. As few of the plebes ever handled any of the three weapons before entering the Academy, their standing is a tribute to the coaching system as well as their own speed, coördination, and balance. In the last four years the Academy team has been beaten once; in the last ten years the plebe team only twice. Each year there is a match with the Army, and the contestants frequently wager the Navy's blue bathrobes p170 against the Army's gray ones. Decatur would have countersigned the invitation of the captain of the 1942 team, Midshipman R. C. Gooding, to the plebes, which reads, "The sword is an officer's weapon — learn to use it."
Another "natural" for the Academy is the crew. The Navy, old and young, felt intense satisfaction when the crew won the Olympic championship in 1920. As early as 1867, Admiral Porter had a crew, which in 1869‑70 was good enough to justify his challenge to the rowing world. Winston Churchill, 1894, developed the first eight-oared crew in 1893. The crew to‑day races the best of the eastern teams in the sprint races and then competes at the Poughkeepsie Regatta with the crack crews of the country. It is generally conceded that pulling in a crew requires just a little more dogged determination than any other form of sport; that last back-breaking stretch requires the "2:00 A.M. courage," the ability to fight to the end without benefit of cheering stands, only the far‑off cry of a launch full of rooters. No other sport develops quite the same team spirit as those "eight men and a boy" in a shell, pulling as one man.
The basket-ball season is scarcely over before the baseball pioneers are commandeering Dahlgren Hall, erecting batting cages, and calling out the whole squad. Under the watchful eye of the coach, the indoor training proceeds until the Ides of March permit the squad to begin regular outdoor practice. Baseball competes with the crew, fencing, lacrosse, track and field, the outdoor rifle team, tennis, and cross country for candidates from the plebes. Plebes are advised to go out for their company baseball team during plebe summer, but unless a plebe has already played baseball the chance of his making the team is small. The average plebe has played some baseball before arriving at the Academy, and the team usually finds sufficient candidates p171 who have grown up with baseball, but the Navy team is handicapped in its collegiate competitions by the other spring sports.
There is no game quite so kaleidoscopic as lacrosse, which requires everything from foot work to head work among its players, and is sufficiently rough to satisfy the most exacting audience. It is understatement to say that the game has few dull moments. The Academy has produced excellent teams and has stood well in intercollegiate contests. An assistant coach trains the plebe team.
When Admiral Porter organized athletics at the Academy, he equipped a gymnasium in Fort Severn. Since that time some apparatus has been available for midshipmen. To‑day skilful coaches patiently teach the plebes to use the horizontal bar, side horse, parallel bars, rope, flying rings, and tumbling mat. If a plebe appears at the gym and shows interest in any of the apparatus, some of the coaching staff will explain its intricacies, and if the interest continues, the plebe will be carefully instructed until he masters them all. In doing this he will discover and develop previously unknown muscles, and get the intense satisfaction that comes from having complete control over a well-developed muscular system. Under the tutelage of trained coaches there is no danger that one group of muscles will be overdeveloped or that the gymnast will become "muscle bound." There is plenty of competition, and in the Navy there is always inspiration to do just a little better than the other team. Such spirit leads to broken records.
Tennis is an entirely different game from what it was twenty years ago, largely because of American players, beginning with Big Bill Tilden. "Navy Paul" Dashiell used to practise on the Academy courts with Bill Larned, when the champion prepared to defend his title. Spectators p172 thought they had a swift service. To‑day, tennis has greater initial velocity, and Academy tennis has improved relatively more than the average. There are now twenty-five to forty courts on the grounds; six all‑weather courts make it practicable to play occasionally in February. The numerous well-kept courts permit some excellent exhibition matches by leading players that always stimulate the home talent. One great advantage of playing tennis at the Academy is the ease with which the practice can be continued after going to sea. Tennis is an almost universal sport. In almost every port the tennis player can find a court: he needs only a partner, his racket, and a half-dozen balls.
Golf was considered an old man's game until the younger generation adopted it and compelled the grounds committees to lengthen the holes. When real estate became too valuable, the Golf Association slowed down the ball, but stronger and younger players continue to make the "par" score for most courses. Like tennis, golf is a lifelong game.
The track team offers opportunities to every candidate if "you have what it takes" — the ability to think and the combat spirit. Candidates for track enjoy expert coaching, and during the intercollegiate meets they see the track athletes of the country in action.
Closely akin to track is cross country. Only the lonely heart knows how tough the going becomes before the final line is crossed. Except for a few enthusiastic fans, there will be only a bored glance by the spectators of another more appealing contest, many of whom wonder what the bother is about. But the runner who can take the punishment alone, keep plugging, and win an anonymous victory is preparing himself for the "silent service," the Navy. His goings and comings in the fleet during peace and war will be shrouded in secrecy; no one will applaud that perilous periscope watch kept over an enemy base, because no one p173 will be allowed to know about it. The inner satisfaction is greater; that feeling of having contributed to the Academy encourages the larger willingness to contribute to the nation. Cross country is deservedly popular at Annapolis.
For many years the Navy had a boxing team, but now the manly art of self-defense is limited to battalion contests, where Navy officials can preside. Plebes are still instructed in the art.
The latest addition to Navy sports is squash. Eight new courts have been constructed, permitting larger participation, and the incoming plebes are promptly informed of the increased facilities and that the coach is at their service. Squash is an easy game to learn, but a hard game to play well, but it is another exercise that helps in later years to keep that Academy figure, for squash courts are available in many city clubs.
The Academy is determined that its athletic system shall not be limited to making strong midshipmen stronger. The battalion teams are organized to pass athletics around to all, particularly to those who hesitate to try for the Academy or plebe teams. The primary purpose of battalion sports is to get every man possible out for sports. Numerals are presented to each member of the winning team in all sports, and points are awarded that count toward the company swords and the battalion cups and shields. One battalion football player, during his Second Class year, made the Academy team and an All‑American team, but he was exceptional. Battalion teams are coached by Academy officers, ex‑letter-men in their respective sports. Reef Points sums up the requirements for battalion sports in a challenging sentence: "A little red blood and a desire to make something of your body and character are the only requirements — are you wanting of these?'
Athletics at Naval Academy are designed to produce p174 more than vigorous young men, radiating health, whose long supple back muscles ripple under their blue blouses. Bodies may be perfect, but if the fighting spirit is not there these physical giants are no use to Uncle Sam. Competition in athletic contests tends to produce the combat spirit. A deuce tennis match, an extra-hole golf match, a relay race where an undaunted runner starting from behind manages somehow to pull even or draw ahead, a hotly contested lacrosse or soccer match, a grueling crew race where the fast-pumping heart almost breaks the blood vessels — all such contests develop the will to endure, the determination to conquer, the spirit of combat that are essential in a fleet.
A football game perhaps approaches a little nearer to battle than any other sport. It requires the team spirit essential in a turret's crew of a battleship, a submarine, a destroyer, and a fleet itself: the individual must play when every muscle aches, when tendons are strained, ribs broken, eyes gashed and partly closed. The game creates a satanic desire to put the opposing player out of the road that is identical with battle emotions; it provides a feeling of exultation when the opposing side begins to crumble, the proud assurance that grips the soul when it feels the opponent is dominated and that spurs the body to the last ounce of effort always necessary to defeat a strong, resolute enemy. Clear heads must be kept in the bruised bodies to seek the weak point of the enemy line and send a crashing attack through it or a forward pass over it; or, if the players are standing under the shadows of their own goal posts, to divine where the enemy attack will come and break it up.
One of the best battalion commanders in the Marine Corps during the last war said a good battalion did not commence fighting in earnest until it had lost one‑third of its men; his particular battalion was a crack outfit, but p175 military records show that there have been many inspired organizations who will fight to the last man. The ability to endure and to think clearly when the contest rages, when the battle goes badly, is what enabled Perry to shift flagships at Lake Erie, Macdonough to wind ship and reopen the battle with a fresh battery, and Paul Jones to realize that his ship might be destroyed but that he could not be defeated. Athletic contests develop a willingness among midshipmen to take punishment for the Academy. This same spirit will inspire them to give all they have for their country.
With this spirit of sacrifice goes an understandable desire for distinction, to be first aboard an enemy ship like Charles Morris, or as Cushing put it, "Where there is fighting there we will be, and where there is danger in the battle, there will I be, for I will gain a name in this war." A few individuals inherit the almost divine spirit of a Cushing, a Somers, a Decatur, but even warlike races such as Sparta and Ancient Rome found it necessary to inculcate and encourage this martial spirit. Not the least of the Academy's responsibilities is to preserve the wonderful blend of ambition and sacrifice that existed among American midshipmen before Annapolis was founded. Its athletic teams offer the Academy a suitable instrument to meet this obligation.
1 Rear Admiral J. R. Beardall recently succeeded Rear Admiral Willson.
2 Commander A. H. Rooks, U. S. N., "Entrance Requirements, U. S. Naval Academy," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings (October, 1935).
4 Chaplain Jones was an indefatigable advocate of a Naval Academy.
a More minutely, including picturesque details about the first Army-Navy football game, see "Athletic Training at the Naval Academy" (USNI Proceedings 61:1560‑1567).
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 1 Nov 21