Many Mids are upset by changes

The Baltimore Sun

Of all the changes taking hold over the past few weeks at the Naval Academy, the least popular, at least among midshipmen, might come as a surprise.

It wasn't the loss of weekends off-campus, cuts in extracurricular activities, or even the mandatory three meals a day on campus, where they've been served hamburger buns and gravy, frozen hoagies or one slice of pizza for dinner.

According to several dozen midshipmen and parents, the most intolerable transition brought about by new leaders Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler and Capt. Margaret Klein has been a side effect of the three-hour mandatory study time: Workouts are being squeezed out.

Instead of evening runs or gym visits that so many had made a staple of their lives in Annapolis, they have to find time before 8 p.m., when all now have to hit the books each night.

As a result, the gyms have been overrun at peak times, several midshipmen said.

"Physical fitness is part of the mission here," said one midshipman, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. "The most significant part of the new rules is that there is no time to work out. Period."

Some were even more distressed about changes that, after some examination, are actually not in the cards. The rumor mill ran wild last week with suggestions that Fowler and Klein were taking aim at one of the most enduring traditions in college sports: the Army-Navy rivalry.

At a banquet commemorating the juniors' decisions to sign "2 for 7" papers -- committing themselves to two more years at the academy and then at least five years of Naval service -- they were asked not to shout "Beat Army!" after singing "Navy Blue and Gold," the school's alma mater. An annual push-up contest against cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was also scrapped, and some wondered if all the pomp that accompanies the annual game would go by the wayside.

In a wide-ranging interview Aug. 24, Klein, the academy commandant or second in command, explained that juniors were asked not to yell "Beat Army!" at that event only because of its significance as the moment when they commit themselves to military service.

"Out of respect for our soldiers, we will not say 'Beat Army!' at that event and at those kinds of events, particularly while we're at war," she said, noting that she and Fowler, the new superintendent, have fought alongside airmen and soldiers. "But on the athletic field, or at other competitions -- I can't say it emphatically enough -- We will continue to say, loudly, beat the heck out of Army, as loudly as we possibly can."

But at least one rumored break from the past is true, much to the chagrin of some Navy fans.

At Navy away games, with the exception of the Army-Navy and Notre Dame contests, a raucous band of cheering Mids, clad in white, will no longer fill the stands.

In previous years, they were allowed special incentives to attend the games, and in some cases even got a travel reimbursement. Not anymore., a sports blog, reported that only 77 midshipmen had been approved to attend Friday's season opener against the Temple Owls in Philadelphia.

"In the past, when you could see them all on TV, it was very moving," said the father of a sophomore midshipman who asked not to be named for fear of retribution against his son. "I think it does so much to see these kids and be reminded of how much they give up to be there [at the academy]."

Klein said home games are still mandatory, but in order to allow midshipmen to fulfill their military obligations, some activities -- such as attendance at away games, guarding the crypt of John Paul Jones, or extracurricular clubs and groups -- must be cut back.

"The superintendent's intent is to stay focused on moral, mental and physical development," she said. "Other activities, we're trying to impress upon all, are secondary, optional and conditional."

This could mean the end of the midshipman orchestra or fewer hours of community service from the Midshipmen Action Group, or MAG. Since 1992, the group has averaged about 30,000 hours of community service a year.

"It would be such a shame if their activities were curtailed," said Brian Morrison, founder of the Believe in Tomorrow Children's Foundation, which provides hospital and housing services to critically ill children. Morrison, whose son graduated from the academy in May, said midshipmen are "an enormous help" in helping renovate Baltimore homes that children and their families use while they receive specialized treatment in the area.

"They come in large groups, and they're organized and effective and self-directed. They can accomplish more in a day than other-sized groups can in months," he said. "It was good for them and for us, and good for the community. I'm not sure of the logic behind cutting back on it."

Some midshipmen have had to choose between two favorite extracurricular activities, and many music groups -- such as the Glee Club, Gospel Choir or Drum and Bugle Corps -- are being cut back or having scheduled performances canceled. Those involved with these groups have protested, arguing that the performances, including concerts at the Kennedy Center or for the Pope at the Vatican, brought international renown.

"Fowler's saying they're the face of the Navy, but with everything he's done, they can barely be seen in public," said the mother of another midshipman. "It's like a ton of bricks has fallen on these young people's heads."

Klein recognized the value of such performances, and noted that the Gospel Choir would still travel to Atlanta to sing at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor.

None of the changes about these activities had been finalized, but she acknowledged that some would be disappointed.

"Midshipmen are going to have to make choices at some point," she said. "We're not telling them they have to choose one or the other, we're trying to get them to focus on moral, mental and physical development."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad