Many Aspire, Few Chosen: Gillette, Biancalana Head to Academies
Roosevelt senior Nick Biancalana was flying high last summer as a baseball player, so high that he drew the attention of the head coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs who wondered if Nick might want to join up with a truly big league after he graduated high school. Nick said he’d think about that.
Meanwhile his amphibious classmate, swim team captain Connor Gillette, was also doggedly pursuing the goal he’d set for himself years ago: an appointment to a military service academy, preferably the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Service academy appointees receive a first-rate undergraduate education – considered equivalent to that provided by Ivy League and other top-tier schools – and spend a minimum of five years serving their country on active duty as a military officer upon graduation. The full four-year scholarship is valued at more than $350,000 which includes tuition, room and board, medical and dental care and a monthly stipend.
Many aspire, few are chosen.
But you don’t simply get online and apply. To even be considered for an appointment you first have to be nominated for consideration by a U.S. congressman or senator. There are personal interviews and lots of other hoops to jump through. Ultimately, for the most select, there are the coveted appointments that both Nick and Connor received and have accepted. Connor, in fact, won appointments to both Annapolis and West Point. He chose the Navy because it’s in his blood. His paternal grandfather was a sailor and so was an uncle on that side of his family.
Nick’s commitment to the Air Force also has a family flavor to it. Unbeknownst to him until he’d been officially appointed and formally declared his acceptance, both of his late grandfathers were airmen in their days. Learning that put the final stamp of meant-to-be-ness on his decision.
Before meeting Nick and Connor you might wonder if they realize what they’re getting themselves into. But you don’t have to talk with them for long before that notion is dispelled. They look their parts, with close-cropped hair and fixed eyes. Listening to them explaining their decisions a resolve comes through loud and clear that’s firm as their handshakes. They already carry themselves as young gentlemen and are now on track to become officers.
“I decided during winter break in 8th grade this is what I wanted,” Connor said. “I just want to be part of what military service is all about and give back some of what I’ve been given.”
A stint in a summer program at Annapolis last year convinced him he has what it will take.
Similarly, when Nick went on an official visit to the scenic, sprawling AFA campus he returned undaunted by cautionary tales about “Beast Week” and cadets marching literally in their sleep.
“I’ve always been motivated by challenges,” Nick said matter-of-factly. “I know that it won’t be easy but I also believe that I am up to it.”
Besides physical rigor and discipline, the academic aspect of military academy life is also daunting. But this pair is unfazed. Both emphasize that their classwork at Central Academy has fully prepared them for what lies in store.
“Take as many AP classes as you can,” is Connor’s advice to fellow academy aspirants. “And get involved with sports and extra-curricular leadership.”
You don’t have to be an athlete to be a Midshipman or a Falcon but you’ve got to be in shape and you’ve got to be a leader.
“The teachers at Central like to say their classes are similar to college,” Nick said. “I know we’re well-prepared to handle the classwork.”
Now that the pressure of the process is off and their paths are chosen Nick and Connor can relax, relatively speaking, and swap good-natured trash talk about which branch of service outranks which. They’ll both have to report for duty in midsummer for what amounts to basic training next to which freshman orientation at more traditional colleges is recess on the playground. Connor’s senior swim season will be long over by then but Nick will forfeit the last innings of his prep baseball career.
Teddy Roosevelt, their school’s namesake, was a distinguished soldier in his day, an Army man noted for his charge on horseback at a time when America’s Air Force hadn’t gotten off the ground and the naval fleet wasn’t quite so global as it’s become since. But it’s fair to say that he would be impressed by these two young Roughriders and join the whole school district they represent in extending to them a crisp salute.