Aaron Schuldiner (@shealiveson) is a freelance writer. He filed this report after taking in the first Army-Navy basketball game this year, a win for the Midshipmen on January 20. The two schools will play for the 91st time on the hardwood this Saturday in Annapolis.
Upon the fields of friendly strife, are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory. –- Douglas MacArthur, USMA Class of 1903
It’s a brisk Sunday afternoon in West Point, NY, but it’s like a sauna inside Christl Arena. Despite it being a holiday weekend on campus, the building is packed shoulder-to-shoulder with more than 5,000 fans and spectators, most of whom are standing quietly in front of their seats. The Black Knights of Army are assembled near the foul line at the far end of the court, facing the corner of the stands where their band is delivering the alma mater of the United States Military Academy. It’s only been a few minutes since the final buzzer sounded, closing the book on a tough 59-50 loss to their rivals from Annapolis. Yet here the Black Knights stand, at attention, with the Midshipmen of Navy by their side, each honoring their Academy and their opponent. In a moment, the Army players in their home whites and the Midshipmen in Navy blue and gold will walk together to the opposite end of the floor, where the winning team’s band readies to play the alma mater of the Naval Academy. “If you win, they play your alma mater second,” says Brennan Wyatt, a junior guard at Navy and one of just three upperclassmen on the roster. “So it’s always a better time if you hear your alma mater second, but … you have to show them respect like they show us respect, win or lose. I mean, it really does go back to respect, and how both teams, I feel, respect each other a lot as people, and as basketball players.”
If you look for it, you can see joy on the faces of the Midshipmen and disappointment on the faces of the Black Knights, but for these few moments, there are no overt displays of celebration or sorrow. Basketball emotions are on hold while the players from both academies pay respect to principles that are bigger than the events of the past few hours. It’s a unique scene, and one that can’t help but reaffirm your faith in sportsmanship. In a culture that’s often too preoccupied with the accomplishments of the individual to be bothered with the team concept, the Army-Navy basketball rivalry is a breath of fresh air. Among the cadets, the success of the team comes first. Where their futures will take them, it has to.
The stakes are high and the rivalry is fierce, but showboating and trash talk are noticeably absent. You won’t see a player disrespect his opponent for the sake of self-promotion in an Army-Navy game. “We’re both Academy schools and we hold ourselves higher,” says Ella Ellis, a senior forward for Army and the ninth-leading scorer in program history. “There definitely won’t be any taunting in that game. It’s definitely a rivalry, but we also have to remember that after this is said and done, we’ll be brothers in arms.”