When talking to members of the Army West Point wrestling coaching staff on the record during interviews and over informal conversation at lunch, the phrase that continually comes up is that West Point is “a unique, special place.” You only need to step foot on campus for a few moments to realize that they are entirely accurate in their assessment. The United States Military Academy or West Point was established in 1802 at the direction of the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson. West Point is located 50 miles north of New York City overlooking the Hudson River. Before 1802, during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army used West Point as an Army post to help fend off the British. Its alumni include two US Presidents (Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower) and some of the most notable and vital figures in US History (Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, Norman Schwartzkopf, Buzz Aldrin, among many others). The thought that those fine men and thousands of other West Point graduates walked the same grounds, in some cases hundreds of years ago, is astonishing. Head Coach Kevin Ward and I struggle to tape quick interviews at the famous landmarks such as Trophy Point and the Battle Monument because busloads of tourists continually file through the campus to get a glimpse of the sites.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the job for Ward is knowing that he can play a small role in “developing people that are literally going to change the world. Someone that is going to make a decision that changes the world is right here, right now. They could be in the wrestling room right now. So the opportunity to help them reach their goals and ultimately help shape them to be the person they will be when they’re in that leadership position is quite an honor.” These words resonate with me as I observe the wrestling team and walk throughout the campus and wondering, “is that that a future president, senator, or four-star general.” Despite the lofty aspirations and future prospects for the Cadets in the wrestling room Ward warns that his wrestlers are “athletes just like every other school in the country, just with higher standards. They practice, grab a bite to eat and study. They’ll joke around with each other before practice, just like anyone else their age.” I do learn that the team members and coaching staff have a running, inside joke surrounding Ward after he excitedly tripped over a set of chairs while going to protest a call during last years dual meet with Lehigh. Ward is humble enough to appreciate the laughs that come up whenever the situation is revisited. Anthony Abidin, the newest member of the coaching staff, has also been able to fit into the mix with his own brand of humor on top of a motor that will allow him to workout with anyone on the team without coming up for air. He enlightened me with a spot-on Christopher Walken impression and is working on adding Robert DeNiro to his repertoire
Ward is starting his fifth year on the job as Army West Point’s head coach. His team features three returning NCAA qualifiers from a team that finished eighth in the EIWA in 2018, (Luke Weiland, Ben Harvey, and Rocco Caywood) to go along with a recruiting class that was ranked 18th in the nation. Harvey was a match away from becoming Ward’s first DI All-American, as a head coach, and the program’s first since Matt Kyler did so in 2008. The Black Knights are starting to reap the rewards of multiple years with promising recruiting classes. The team could put together a starting lineup that features just one senior, Caywood. A pair of new assistants Ned Shuck and Abidin join Ward, Joe DeAngelo, and Athletic Intern Jack Lucie to comprise a coaching staff that is hungry to help lead this group of future leaders to a level of success on the wrestling mat that has not been seen at West Point in recent years.
Check out the first series of videos below, which includes a tour of the campus by Coach Ward and find out just how special of a place West Point really is.
The “Beat Navy Tunnel”
Trophy Point Overlook
The 13 Links (Coach is joking about training with the links)