Deep Run sending three graduates to West Point

(From left) Ricky Black III,
Stephen Brooks and Patrick Gardner
With a 13 percent acceptance rate according to http://www.collegeprowler.com, the United States Military Academy at West Point (Army) is one of the most selective colleges in the country. Try telling that to Deep Run High School, which is sending three students – Ricky Black III, Stephen Brooks and Patrick Gardner – from its 2012 graduating class to the prestigious academy.

Brooks and Gardner will be playing together on Army’s baseball team.

“I know baseball helped me get in there, but I wanted to go to a school that was mainly about academics and setting me up for success,” Gardner said, “and West Point is the perfect place to do that.”

Brooks and Gardner have been friends for several years, having played baseball together since before high school, they said. All three students knew each other before, but Brooks and Gardner didn’t talk much with Black until their decisions, they said.

They talk just about every day now, Brooks said.

“Mostly, we talk about the summer boot camp we have to go to,” he said. “They nickname it ‘Beast Barracks,’ which as you can tell, sounds like it’ll be just a heck of a ton of fun.

“A lot of running probably, being in the mud, not showering for a couple weeks, not having any contact with the outside world.”

None of the three have much family background in the military, they said.

“It wasn’t something I heard about growing up,” Black said.

Each has his own unique reasons for the big decision.

Black visited the campus his junior year for a weeklong summer leadership seminar program.

“I really liked everything that they were as far as the physical, the ethics, the mental and decided that was some place I really could see myself,” he said.

Brooks knew he was going to play baseball in college and, though he was talking to some ACC and SEC schools first, started to look at Army after they called him one night, he said.

“I couldn’t really find anything that could match up to what West Point could offer me in regards to academics, ethics, morals [and] the leadership that they preach,” he said.

Gardner really wanted to do something with the military, he said, and felt the baseball team there offered a more family-like feeling than anywhere else he looked.

At 18 years old, all three agreed future employment opportunities were big reasons for their decisions.

“I’m going to have a job when I get out of college,” Brooks said. “We have to serve five years coming out of West Point and so, for those five years, I’ll have a job.”

Gardner added, “A degree from West Point: who’s not going to hire you with that?”

Of course, deciding that they wanted to attend West Point was hardly half the process for an academy known for its strenuous application process.

“First of all, they want to see your transcript, all your grades, SAT scores, other programs you’ve been involved in,” Black said. “But on top of that, you have to be cleared by the Department of Defense Medical Exam Review Board.

“You also have to be physically qualified and do a certain amount of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, run a mile.”

A student must also apply to a congressman or senator to get congressionally nominated, Black said. Each congressman and senator has 10 slots for high school hopefuls. All three were nominated by Rep. Eric Cantor, with Gardner also receiving nomination from Sen. Mark Warner.

“Even after you’ve been accepted, you still have to get security clearance, still have to keep your medical records up to date,” Black said. “Like I just had my wisdom teeth taken out, and I’m going to have to send them my dental information so that they know nothing’s wrong.”

Despite all these stresses associated with applying for their top college choice, all three managed to have successful senior campaigns in their respective sports.

Black earned 35 wins for Deep Run’s wrestling team, which has won districts every year he’s been in high school, he said.

Brooks and Gardner were part of Deep Run’s first baseball team ever to win the district title outright in the regular season, according to the team’s head coach, Will Hicks.

Finishing 16-2 in the regular season, the Wildcats won the Colonial District Championship before falling, 5-4, to Cosby High School in the Central Region playoffs.

Both Brooks and Gardner pitched for the team, with Brooks also playing third base and Gardner also playing in the outfield.

“They’re team leaders in their own sense,” Hicks said of his two West Point-bound seniors. “One’s more boisterous [Stephen], the other [Patrick] is a leader by example, but they’re both leaders inside and out.”
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