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Public Affairs : 2012 Army Ball Run

West Point Marathon team makes 24-hour delivery of Army game ball

Story and photos by Mike Strasser

Assistant Editor

Twenty-four hours after accepting the Army-Navy Game ball during the spirit rally at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy’s Marathon team ended its long-distance relay run as the runners entered Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

They had just encountered the friendliest of welcoming parties in downtown Philly around 7 p.m. Dec. 7, with people cheering, cars honking and excitement growing the further they moved into the city.

But it was quiet inside the empty stadium … just the team and a group of veterans and military supporters who escorted them on the final stretch of road from King of Prussia, Pa., into Philadelphia.

After 150 miles of pounding rubber soles onto cold concrete, the road-weary travelers exchanged handshakes, hugs, words of appreciation and called it a night. The team would make the moment more official Dec. 8 when they returned to the stadium again with the world watching the ceremonial handoff of the game ball.

In 1984 volunteers from the Corps of Cadets made the first delivery of the Army game ball. That tradition faded away until the Marathon team revived it in 1994 and they’ve been running the ball ever since. It's only logical the academy's best long-distance runners would represent the Army in the annual Ball Run.

Case in point, every team member who ran the Richmond Marathon in November earned a spot to compete in the Boston Marathon this April. For West Point marathoners, that’s like playing in the Army-Navy Game itself or competing in the Olympics. It's the pinnacle of their collegiate athletic careers.

They’ve certainly got the legs and stamina to run the ball cross-country, but better yet, they’ve got the right spirit. It doesn’t diminish in sub-degree weather or falter by erratic roadways. When Class of 2015 Cadet Leora Reyhan jumped back into the van after completing several miles, her damp hair was frozen stiff. Every time runners returned to the van, the chill could actually be felt extending off their bodies for nearly a minute until their circulation returned to normal.

“It’s cold, but you get used to it,” she said, straightforwardly.

Her fellow co-captain, Class of 2013 Cadet Nate Einfeldt, puzzled her because he chose to wear a tank top and shorts.

“How is he doing that?” Reyhan asked.

The best guess was he's part Alaskan, but Einfeldt hails from Atlanta, Ga., so he’s not exactly a native of winter weather. Class of 2016 Cadet Nicholas Juliano resembled a human popsicle, nursing a frozen mouth with a drop of blood on his teeth caused by cracked lips. Still, they weren’t complaining about anything—merely stating facts, nor did it keep them from going back out again. Even when they were given a shift that became mostly an uphill run, it’s spoken about more with pride for tackling the incline than aggravation for getting it. What mattered more to Juliano was that his English instructor, who just happens to be the team's officer-in-charge, Lt. Col. Scott Chancellor, had assigned him homework over Army-Navy weekend. With term-end exams and deadlines for papers approaching, their minds were still very much in the classroom at times.

"'s like we own the place."
                          Class of 2016 Cadet Tiffany Matthews

That spirit goes especially for the “graveyard shift.” Of the three vans of runners, the second one, led by Maj. Sharon Kircher, is notorious for having to endure running in the darkest of night, in the coldest of temperatures and with the least amount of sleep. They may have more right to claim hardship, but didn’t.

“This is my favorite shift,” Class of 2012 Cadet Meg-Ann Braun said. "During my first year, all the plebes got stuck on this shift—well, there were only two of us—but all the plebes and yearlings were in this van and I’ve loved it since.” “There’s no one else out there, so it’s like we own the place,” Class of 2016 Cadet Tiffany Matthews said.

The only distinguishable difference in this group from the others is its enthusiasm was tempered—intermittent bursts, usually after a pair of runners returned to the warmth of the van—but then, like a switch, the chatter turned off abruptly for a quick nap. Class of 213 Cadet Ben Karn, running his fourth and final Army Ball Run, said those in the graveyard shift are all about the business at hand—running that football.

“After a while the conversations will end when you realize, OK, it’s 3 in the morning and I need a little nap before it’s my turn to run again," Karn said.

Remarkably, Braun and Matthews emerged quickly from their rest and returned to the road for their second shift as if they were waking from a good night's sleep for a morning run. They returned invigorated and animated after clearing a four-mile stretch.

“It was warmer out this time, which is good,” Matthews said. “More hills, but not bad.”

She’s already looking forward to three more years of running the game ball.

“I cannot wait to do this again—three more times,” Matthews said. “This is a blast, so much fun.”

Her running partner, however, had done her share of five Army Ball Runs, having had an extended stay at the academy for double shoulder surgery.

“The fifth and final time … it’s awesome as always,” Braun said.

When Class of 2016 Marc Samland thought he only had about five or six miles left in him, he ran much further—even running in place for a bit while the convoy figured out a detour route around the heavy main road traffic.

“Once I started going I couldn’t stop,” Samland said. “It felt great and the countryside was beautiful. It’s been great seeing people from these different states and just being out there is unique. Generally, people are supportive. I passed an older lady who was running and she was cheering me on. It was a great experience … fun.”

Collect the whole set! Check out individual runner profiles and Ball Run photos at the USMA Flickr site here.

No prizes could be awarded for most energetic on this overnight trip—they were equally prolific in storytelling, jokes and shop talk on running. Class of 2013 Cadet Johannes Olind argued the marathon is a perfect test of human endurance—just enough mileage to truly push the body to its limits. The ultramarathon runners in the van countered that theory, having found 50 miles to be just as rewarding an experience as a regular marathon. Hours earlier, faced with spine-shivering temperatures, Capt. Mark Davis, an instructor in the Department of Physical Education, provided a short discourse on cold-weather training—a lesson he just gave in class that day. With nothing to see but the runners illuminated by headlights for hours at a time, sometimes analysis was doled out on their particular gait, form and little quirks in movement. Even a hundred miles away from the academy, there are teaching opportunities.

Braun amused herself by teasing Class of 2015 Cadet Daniel Schlich, an underclassman, for being a machine on the road, but it's all good-natured. In Richmond, he placed 20th among a field of nearly 5,000—fifth in his age division with a 2:38 time. Likewise, Reyhan might encounter friendly flak for not being knowledgeable about classic rock, yet she's a rock star on the road after finishing first in Richmond for her age division with a time of 3:21:12. Juliano is mocked for being—of all things—too verbose when he admitted to overextending the word count on a research paper for which he received an A- grade.

Midshipman Tom Rowland would seem the perfect target for ridicule—being the sole runner from the exchange program with the U.S. Naval Academy—but, no. Midshipmen have long been welcomed onto the Marathon team for the semester they attend West Point and are treated no differently. However, the idea of handing over the Army football to a Navy runner does bring up conspiracy theories. Keeping the game ball secured at all times is serious business, and at one point Rowland faked a fumble, causing a mild eruption of shock inside the van. That wasn’t as much concern as the way Juliano was clutching the game ball with one hand. Einfeldt yelled from inside the van for the freshman to cradle it properly.

Sitting up front in the van, Reyhan was the first to welcome runners back in and asked how they were feeling—like when Class of 2015 Cadet David Richardson recorded the most road time during the first leg of the run.

“I was having fun, and it was kind of motivating being out there with people cheering ‘Go Army’ out their windows,” Richardson said.

Later, Olind and Class of 2013 Cadet Colin Chapman would go even further—running roughly 80 minutes before readily tagging out for the next pair. Each van had differing strategies for completing its leg of the run. Some ran in pairs, triplets and infrequently in larger groups; sometimes it would be a solo run to conserve the energy of others for longer distances.

There was never the mass gathering of onlookers like they experienced in downtown Philadelphia, but occasionally people outside a tavern or apartment complex had just enough time to catch sight of the spirit messages painted on the sides of the vans and realized what this convoy was all about. Making out the “Go Army, Beat Navy” motif on the windows, spectators had just enough time to frame the action on their camera phones. Sometimes, a guest runner would join them, like Col. Tom Kastner, the former officer-in-charge of the Marathon team, who met up with Einfeldt and Richardson for part of the run. Kastner retired from the Army after 30 years of service to the nation, last having served as the director of the dean's staff and professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy.

West Point Class of 1948 graduate Roger Conover enjoyed blasting Army fight songs on his car stereo. Conover has participated at least three times before and ran a quarter mile with Karn and Class of 2015 Cadet Ben Shields.

“He’s in great shape,” Karn said, impressed by this fit member of the Long Gray Line. “He talked for a little bit and told us it was nice to be able to come out and run with us.”

“He was pretty serious when he said we have to beat Navy … with conviction,” Shields said.

The team doesn't have many opportunities for overnight travel, let alone overnight distance running so the annual Ball Run allows them a full day to build camaraderie and team cohesion, mostly in the confines of a van.

“Well, we got to spend a lot of time together, and it has been a unique experience that no one else has,” Maj. Sarah Wolberg, assistant officer-in-charge, said.

At times the journey seemed more than just about a football or even a football game. Part extreme team-building exercise and part goodwill tour, the marathoners proved to be exceptional at both. Every stopping point turned into an occasion to meet the public and represent the U.S. Military Academy.

At one fire station, a construction worker was eager to get a photo of him holding the game ball, but first got to know the cadets carrying the ball. They also received a warm reception at Reagent Chemical in Ringoes, N.J. The company has been hosting the Marathon team during their Army Ball Run since 2005. Greg Huljack, a human resource manager, was among the first to greet the marathoners outside the office building. He said everyone is familiar with the annual Army-Navy Game but in 2005 the Ball Run was something of a surprise to them.

“The route that they run just happens to pass this office and one day one of our employees happened to see them approaching,” Huljack said. “So everybody went out and started cheering.”

Just a day earlier, the Girls Scouts had been delivering their cookies in the area, so the runners were treated to some refreshments. Since that first year, the gathering has become like a homecoming, with lots of food to eat while reminiscing and introducing new faces. The walls, decorated with poster boards of past Ball Run photos, documents all the West Point Marathon teams over the years. Once, they organized an appearance by a 100-piece high school band to welcome the runners with Army songs. Huljack said it's a little ironic for him to be so supportive of the Army team when his own son is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and marathon runner.

“But this has always been a good-spirited and honorable exchange,” Huljack said.
"This is the part that makes it all worthwhile...bringing it home."
                                                        Maj. John Dvorak

The Marathon team had much praise for the seamless escort provided by state and local police through every county, township and borough across three states. When they could, the marathoners would stop and chat before presenting them with commemorative Army T-shirts. When they couldn't, a few waves and words of thanks got the message across.

A fire truck led the way at one point, bringing the runners to the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company, where a large crowd gathered to meet them. After speaking with the cadets, a few photos were taken with community members who then filled the team van with snacks for the remainder of the trip.

Maj. John Dvorak was clearly a happy runner as he completed nearly 20 miles at the end of the trip. “The adrenaline just carries you out there,” Dvorak said, joined by the entire team at the end. “This is the part that makes it all worthwhile … bringing it home.”

Dvorak was a member of the “Glory Van,” the group of marathoners who ran the final stretch of road with most of the fanfare along the way. No matter how tired or cold, the entire team musters the energy for the grand entrance into the stadium.

“The last few miles were incredible. We were pumped up, it was great,” Samland said. “The people, the energy the lights…it was great. That, and knowing we were almost at the end.”

The team received miles of support from the Warriors Watch Riders, a national organization of veterans and military advocates who often attend unit deployment and redeployment ceremonies.

Among them was James Shreve, a retired sergeant major and former senior enlisted Soldier at West Point. He offered some final words to the group at the end of their journey and congratulated them for proudly representing the Corps of Cadets and the Army.

“You did an awesome job and you didn't quit,” Shreve said.

Shreve said he attended many class graduation ceremonies where the newly-commissioned officers receive their new rank. He was proud to serve with those graduates, and said he would gladly serve again with this team.

“Hearing from the sergeant major was probably one of the coolest things about this run,” Class of 2014 Cadet Benjamin Huff said. “It kind of puts things in perspective. We’re not just running the ball for the Army team. It’s for the whole Army community, the United States and all Americans.”
For 19 years West Point marathoners have been an integral part of Army-Navy Game history as the long-distance ball handlers representing the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The West Point Marathon team continued the tradition Dec. 6-7 when 18 cadets, one midshipman and several Army officers left Daly Field during the Spirit Rally to run nearly 150 miles to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia with the Army game ball.

The West Point Marathon team paid a visit to the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company and spoke with firefighters and veterans during a short break en route to Philadelphia with the Army-Navy Game ball.

2012 Army Ball Run Roster

Benjamin Huff (Class of 2014)
Colin Chapman (Class of 2013)
Nathaniel Einfeldt (CLass of 2013)
Adam  Irons (Class of 2014)
Nicholas Juliano (Class of 2016)
Ben Karn (Class of 2013)
Johannes Olind (Class of 2013)
Austin Semmel (Class of 2015)
Connor Roche (Class of 2015)
Marc Samland (Class of 2016)
Daniel Schlich (Class of 2015)
David Richardson (Class of 2015)
Benjamin Shields (Class of 2015)
Thomas Rowland (U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 2014)
Meg-Ann Braun (Class of 2012)
Tiffany Matthews (Class of 2016)
Mackenzie Riford (Class of 2016)
Mackenzie Vaughn (Class of 2014)
Leora Reyhan (Class of 2015)
Lt. Col. Scott Chancellor
Maj. Sarah Wolberg
Maj. John Dvorak
Maj. Sharon Kircher
Capt. Mark Davis

Class of 2012 Cadet Meg-Ann Braun and Class of 2016 Cadet Tiffany Matthews enjoys an early morning run--their second shift--after running the night before as the West Point Marathon team headed to Philadelphia to deliver the game ball before the Army-Navy Game Dec. 8.

Class of 2016 Cadet Marc Samland waves to a local Pennsylvanian during a rainy run through the state Dec. 7. The West Point Marathon team conducted a 24-hour relay run over the course of two days from West Point, N.Y., to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to deliver the Army game ball at the 113th iteration of the Army-Navy Game.

Class of 2016 Cadet Mackenzie Riford ran her first marathon at the age of 13 and having experience in the ultramarathon, she was more than capable of doing her part in the 19th running of the Army game ball by the West Point Marathon team Dec. 6-7. Click here to see a profile of this runner.

The first Ball Run at West Point was conducted in 1984 and lasted several years with members of the Corps of Cadets volunteering to run the game ball. That tradition faded away and was picked up in 1994 by the West Point Marathon team and these runners have been carrying the ball ever since.

The West Point marathoners stop for a photo with Roger Conover, a USMA Class of 1948 graduate who has been a huge supporter of the Army Ball Run for several years. He ran about a quarter mile with the cadets but also joined the convoy for a short spell while blaring Army fight songs from his car stereo.

The King of Prussia sign was a welcoming landmark for the West Point Marathon team as they neared the end of their 24-hour relay run from West Point, N.Y., to Philadelphia. The team ran nearly 150 miles to deliver the Army game ball to Lincoln Financial Field for the 113th iteration of the Army-Navy Game.

More and more West Point marathoners join the final stretch of a 150-mile relay race from West Point, N.Y., to Philadelphia during the 19th annual Army Ball Run.

After 24 hours of running, the West Point Marathon team crosses the finish line of the 150-mile relay run by entering Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia with the game ball.


2012 West Marathon Team Ball Run Preview

2011 Marathon Team Ball Run article

Marathon Team on Flickr

West Point Marathon Team on Facebook

On Nov. 10, the West Point Marathon Team participated in the running of the 35th annual Anthem Richmond Marathon.

The men were led by Class of 2015 Cadet Danny Schlich, who completed the 26.2 mile course in 2 hours, 38 minutes, earning him 20th place in a field of nearly 5,000 runners and 5th in his age division.

The women were led by yearling Leora Reyhan, finishing with a time of 3:21:12 (60th for women overall, 1st in age division). The rest of the results were as follows:

Colin Chapman (‘13) – 2:46:18
Ben Shields (‘15) – 2:47:06
Connor Roche (‘15) – 2:48:27
Adam Irons (‘14) – 2:48:28
Nathaniel Einfeldt (‘13) – 2:52:22
Johannes Olind (‘13) – 2:53:17
Trey Huff (‘14) – 2:57:50
Ben Karn (‘13) – 3:01:04
Austin Semmel (‘15) – 3:02:14
Tom Rowland (USNA ‘14) – 3:10:36
Mackenzie Riford (‘16) – 3:27:02
Mackenzie Vaughn (‘14) – 3:31:10