If any organization understands those words, takes them to heart, and lives deeply by them, it's the United States Army. So deeply in fact, that they became the theme of this year's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, held Jan. 9 in San Antonio's Alamodome.
The Bowl is the nation's premier high school football game, matching up the best ninety players in an annual East vs. West showdown every January. One hundred twenty-five of the nation's most elite young musicians and color guard members are also in attendance and perform at halftime. For sixteen years, the U.S. Army has been the title sponsor of the event, one that not only showcases the talent of students across the nation, but also builds on teamwork and demonstrates strength and determination.
Earning the title Cadet Command NCO of the Year through a series of competitions, Sergeant First Class Scott Shepro was one of twenty-five soldiers from across the nation invited to spend the week prior to the game with the young men and women. The soldiers spent their time interacting with and mentoring the players and musicians. For Shepro, a fifteen-year veteran of the Army and military science instructor at Penn State Altoona, the trip was a unique experience. "Our interactions focused on mentoring these kids. We didn't do a whole lot of coaching or recruiting, but rather filling in that area of counsel, walking with them and saying, 'hey, you've accomplished a lot, what are you going to do next? It's time to reach further now, to step out and get it.'"
Players and musicians are nominated for the Bowl by their coaches and band directors, then selected by a committee comprised of people from All-American Games, which owns and produces the event. Selection is a prestigious honor for these athletes and musicians who share key attributes such as adaptability and versatility with the soldiers from the Army. Activities throughout Bowl Week help connect these All-American athletes and musicians with soldier heroes from around the country and provide better understanding of what it takes and what it means to be an Army soldier, team leader, and upstanding citizen.
Shepro participated in several media events including a phone interview for the nationally syndicated show Bill Martinez Live. There was a coach's breakfast, a Spurs game, some friendly push up and sit up competitions, photo opportunities, guest speakers, a trip to the local Children's Hospital, and an awards dinner. Shepro enjoyed meeting and interacting with the players and musicians, hearing their stories and sharing his. The soldiers wanted each student to understand his or her accomplishments are significant and deserve credit, but to also understand there's more to life than football or band. There are other teams of which they will have to be a part throughout their careers and they will have to adapt to whatever comes their way to achieve what they want. As the best of the best across the nation, these youth already embody that, but they will have to continually be ready to pull from within and believe in themselves as their lives progress.
"The All-American Bowl is a very good analogy to what we in the Army do," says Shepro. "A unit can't succeed on the strength of its leader alone or if one group of people in that unit have the drive, but another doesn't. And that's how football teams work. Their ability to succeed is going to be hampered if every person on that team isn't going for the same goal. We talked a lot about how that will come into play throughout their lives and about the seven Army Values, including loyalty and respect."
Shepro believes when individuals are driven to succeed and to attain excellence, they have a desire to grow and own their experiences and education. Along the way, they develop strong values that make them solid individuals. He saw a lot of that in the youths he was working with, and it was refreshing.
"Before coming to Penn State Altoona, I didn't have any exposure to university life. I was a drill sergeant, and that mentality continues for me here. Anyone who walks through my door, I'm going to do everything in my power to set them up for success. As the semesters come and go and you interact more with students, you come to a point where some of them wear on you quite a bit. There are those who strive for excellence, but there are also the ones who don't push themselves. You know they could do better, if they would put out more effort; so that gets a little frustrating over time. So to see that there are kids out there who are self-driven, very motivated to excel and succeed was also very motivating for me. It was a great experience, I'm glad I got to hang out with these kids."
This is the first time anyone from Penn State Altoona's ROTC program has attended the All-American Bowl. The history and tradition of the Bowl is rich, with Heisman Trophy winners and more than 200 NFL players counted among its alumni. Throughout the years, the game has featured the nation's most elite football players, including Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and Eric Berry. The West came away with this year's victory with a 37-9 final score.