Its 0630. On the banks of the Hudson, West Point Cadet Bailey Abercrombie’s alarm goes off and it’s time to start another day. The number eight for the Army rugby team is off to a team lift before the beginning of his regimented schedule.
A couple hundred miles south, Navy rugby captain Gordon Livermore is out of bed. Along with every other academy member, dressed in uniform, he heads to morning formation. While 99 percent of college students are fast asleep, and many hitting snooze on their alarm clocks until 9:20 for a 9:30 a.m. class, the talented hooker’s bed is already made and he is in his crisply worn uniform, through formation and done with breakfast.
Two thousand miles west, Noah Nagle, a senior on the Air Force Academies men’s rugby team begins his day a few hours later, albeit at the same time. His day starts with Morning Officer Development from 6:30-7 a.m., which is usually some kind of training or preparation for weekend requirements.
The Journey to Rugby
Each one of these individuals got to their respective academies and found rugby in different ways. Abercrombie, a standout rugby player at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Calif. built a relationship with coach Matt Sherman from his days at Stanford and could not pass up an opportunity to play rugby at one of the best institutions in the United States.
“I could not pass up the chance to attend such an amazing university and the opportunity to serve in the military,” Abercrombie stated.
For Livermore, the path to the Naval Academy and the sport of rugby was rooted in a desire to serve. He didn’t come from a military family but the pursuit of a military education eventually led him to the sport. Since high school, Livermore was determined to go to the Naval Academy. However, he did not get there without some adversity. The native of southern California was rejected by Navy out of high school and the standout lacrosse player spent his first year at the Virginia Military Institute. After the first year, he reapplied and was on his way to Annapolis.
Everyone who attends Navy is required to play a sport. After playing on the Lacrosse team at VMI, Livermore was searching for what he wanted to play in Annapolis. With the sport requirement, the Academy offers a feeling out period. Plebes have the opportunity to sample multiple sports and find what best suits them.
“I had never played rugby before and did not have it in my mind when I got to the academy. Then I walked on and I felt this was the kind of culture I had always wanted,” Livermore explained.
For Nagle, the Bend, Oregon native was a high school football player. Upon acceptance into the Air Force Academy, he realized college football was not in his future. Thanks to strong outreach from the rugby community in Colorado Springs, Nagle came to his first practice.
“The Air Force rugby team does a good job of recruiting first year students to come out to practice. I joined the team and have been actively involved ever since,” said Nagle.
The Academic Grind
Some college and university students complain about a lack of time and inflexible teachers. They shouldn’t. Service Academy students split their time between academics, military drills, and sport requirements. While at traditional colleges, classes are often skipped or students show up late, that is not the case at a service academy. Accountability and punctuality are paramount.
“The punishment for missing class is usually five walking hours,” Abercrombie an engineering major indicated. “Walking hours are where you get in uniform and walk back and forth with your rifle until the amount of time you were given is up.”
Academic requirements can be stricter at Service Academies. For Nagle, a Logistics Management major with a Spanish minor, he did not start taking his major classes until his junior year. At the Air Force Academy, everybody graduates with a Bachelor in Science and is required to take a number of core classes.
All three of these individuals and the rest of their cohorts are being trained to be future commissioned officers in their respective branches. In addition to their traditional academic classes, all are required to take leadership and military tactics classes.
“It is the start of a build up process when you enter in as a plebe, it is sort of introductory to the Navy and then it starts to become more specific and more oriented,” Livermore added.
With the physical demands of the military, each of these individuals is required to take some type of physical education classes. At Navy and Army, they have a number of different options, from Boxing to kayaking and racquetball to golf.
At the Air Force Academy, the student-body has weekend military training. Often times that requires the rugby team to manage their schedule to accommodate the players.
“Every three weekends or so we have some type of military training on the weekends. Sometimes we play a game at 10:30 a.m. to be done by 12 or 1 p.m. to get back to training at 2. Other times we play games at 3 p.m. because we had training in the morning,” Nagle stated.
Morning classes run from 7:30 until 11:45 roughly at all three institutions. Then it is a required lunch with the team or company.
“Everyone has this time off and it is a mandatory meal to bring everybody together and fuel everybody for the rest of the day,” Livermore said.
Afternoon classes start shortly after then it is off to practice
With a precious little amount of time, all three rush to practice for two hours more of physical activity. Freshman and sophomore are required to attend a study hall at Army but many upper class men use the time to work on their academics.
“After practice we head back for a team lift, grab dinner and then it is mandatory study time,” Abercrombie added. “You have to put in the time and then it’s off to bed around 10-10:30 to start it all over again the next day.”
The Next Chapter
It is a unique time of year at the service academies. For these individuals and their fellow seniors, they are anxiously awaiting their assignment and the beginning of a distinguished career in service.
Unlike most college students, these men are not submitting resumes or applications to graduate school. None are worried about making their first student loan payment.
While an education at a Service Academy is free, you are required to serve a particular amount of time in the military, varying among the different branches. In less than two weeks or maybe a little longer each one of these student athletes will learn of their next assignment, their first as an academy graduate.
Playing rugby at a service academy is not your typical college experience. With tough academic requirements, a grueling physical fitness regimen and a commitment to something greater than themselves, these individuals will become the next generation of leaders.