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Color Girl rites in the pink


During an assembly of the student brigade this week, one superior company of 120 midshipmen - and one woman in a wedding dress, white gloves and a hat - will parade onto the Naval Academy's Worden Field.

The 18-year-old chosen as this year's "Color Girl" will be, according to academy literature, the "Queen of June Week and the envy of all the girls in America."

Few things resonate at the academy like tradition, and this week's color parade honoring the graduating class the day before commencement is no different.

But unlike most academy activities that have been adapted over time to match current sensibilities, this one has not budged in 130 years. From the flowers the "queen" receives to the size of the dress the academy buys for her, most aspects of this archaic ceremony have not evolved.

The color parade honors the company among 30 that has maintained the highest academic and athletic scores during the year. This week, school officials announced that Company 10 took the honor. And as is his privilege, its fall company commander, Matthew Krauz, chose his sister as Color Girl - these days called the Color Honoree.

Since 1871, a woman has always taken that role, except in 1875, when a high-ranking officer had to step in because some circumstance now lost to history befell the chosen girl.

The Color Honoree's duties include handing the color flags from last year's color company to the winning company, kissing the color-company commander if he is her boyfriend or fiance and accepting flowers and a string of pearls from school officials. She also is expected to join a polite and stately group of women known as the Association of Color Girls of the Naval Academy, which meets once a year for a luncheon.

And, as she has for five decades, the Color Honoree will wear a flowing white dress provided - and selected - by academy officials.

This year, a crisis in tradition was narrowly averted when it appeared that for the first time the color-company commander would be a woman. Company 10's current commander is Josette Fedor, and more times than not in the past, the spring commander has chosen the Color Honoree. Speculation raced last week among midshipmen about what she would do: choose a woman, which did not sit well with alumni, or choose a man, which could be awkward in this world of white wedding dresses, flowers and pearls.

The officer in charge of the company makes the final call.

"It has been tradition that the second-semester company commander wins," Krauz said yesterday. "But it is also tradition that the best company commander marches the company forward [at Color Parade]. I was surprised when I won. [Fedor] is taking it well ... and we will both receive awards."

Krauz said he and Fedor, who both thought that Fedor would take the honor, had been tossing around an alternative Color Girl plan - that Krauz would be Fedor's Color Boy.

The women of the Association of Color Girls, predicting that such an event might happen because women have been graduating from the academy for 20 years, made arrangements five years ago in case the Color Girl turned out to be a boy.

Susan McCoy, the group's founder and 1996 Color Honoree, said that instead of the gold pin they give to each year's honoree, they ordered cuff links and a tie tack should the need arise.

"We're ready," McCoy said. "It's going to happen at some point."

McCoy said she remembers the day she was the honoree, and the hectic week of dress fittings and rehearsals that led up to it.

School organizers still order the dress in a size 12. As the school's social director said 30 years ago, "Color Girls are never fat, but they are always tall." McCoy said tradition stipulates that the honoree keep both the practice bouquet and the ceremonial arrangement.

"I don't think these things have changed over the years because the military is big on tradition," she said. "I don't know what the young people's reactions to this [event] would be, but for us old-timers, we think it's important. We love tradition."

Many midshipmen at the academy aren't as interested in the ceremony as they are in the perks of being named the color company - such as better parking spaces and an extra weekend off.

The tradition of the white wedding dress dates from the early 1950s. Before then, the women brought their own dresses of every color, according to records from the academy's archives.

By mid-century, local stores began donating dresses, hoping to advertise their wedding departments, and the tradition stuck.

After one of the main donors closed in the 1970s, the academy began paying for the dresses.

This year, bridal store Mary's Designer Fashion Boutique in Annapolis will provide a dress for the honoree, Krauz' sister, Stephanie, a freshman at the State University of New York in Cortland.

Krauz said he chose his sister because he knew it would please his family members, all of whom are visiting for graduation.

Many of the academy's students, who were hoping for a female color company commander, say they will have to wait and see what happens next year. They needn't worry, because school officials said it's unlikely that the ceremony will disappear in coming years.

"This is one of the rich traditions associated with Commissioning Week," said academy spokesman Cmdr. Bill Spann. "Some things can't be improved upon."

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