SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program may be one of the best-kept secrets in the military.

Three WCAP athletes discussed Soldiering and sports with visitors of the Army Strong Zone for two days prior to the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome. They were reminded of how few people realize that the Army has a program to support Olympic-caliber athletes.

"Even a lot of military people don't know much about the Army World Class Athlete Program," said Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers, a 2008 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler who is the only U.S. wrestler to win gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Championships.

"I'm definitely pleased to speak with the kids," Byers said. "They have a lot of questions. Some of them wrestle. Most of them here are football players, but they really take an interest in combative sports nowadays with such a huge mixed martial arts fan base.

"Being out here with Sgt. 1st Class [Keith] Sanderson and [WCAP strength and conditioning coach] Sgt. 1st Class [William] Jackson does my heart good to be sharing this with them."

The athletes autographed signature cards and posed for photographs in a tent sandwiched between the displays of All-Army Sports and Installation Management Command, "The Army's Home."

"We were just trying to put out that the Army is interested in Olympic competition and this is how they support it - with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program - but most Soldiers don't know about, I don't think," said Sanderson, an Olympic rapid fire pistol competitor. "A lot of Soldiers and Americans don't know that our top heavyweight wrestler in America is a Soldier and the top pistol shooter in America is a Soldier."

Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command representatives tossed miniature All-Army Sports/WCAP footballs into the crowd and handed out All-Army Sports jersey-styled beverage coolies.

"Some Family members really want to ask questions," Byers said, "because they want to cover all the bases for a kid who is about to venture off and become an adult - either he's going to college or he's got to do something. Most of the moms here say the kid's got to get out of the house."

The throngs of people who packed the Army Strong Zone were not all seeking career advice.

"The crowd is pretty well balanced: I'm seeing retired military, active military, people from other branches," Byers said. "I see a lot of guys in wheelchairs coming up, Vietnam vets - hats off to those guys.

"There are mountains of information and a lot of times we don't realize it. This has kind of opened my eyes up, too, to some things I've seen around here that I really want to keep an eye on."

Across the way, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers representatives played host to a pair of bean-bag boards, one of the bigger attractions in the sea of Army booths.

"It's a good thing to see," Byers said. "It's just Americans doing what we do: having fun, loving sport, and enjoying a nice, sunny day."

Byers bypassed a football grant-in-aid to attend North Carolina A&T University and joined the Army.

"Some of these kids walking around here are huge," said Byers, 36, who measured 6 feet, 2 inches and 306 pounds on this day but wrestles at 264.5 pounds. "I wish I could've been a part of something like this when I was coming up."

It took several seasons of Olympic-style wrestling for Byers to forget about the possibility of a football career.

"I think about that, too," he said. "I miss football; I do. It came up almost every year for many years. But I'm a wrestler, I'm an Olympic wrestler, and I've got to get an Olympic gold medal."

Byers said he also embraces the role of Army ambassador.

"It's always a good thing to meet people and this is another way of giving back," he said. "I think this is a wonderful event."

Page last updated Tue February 15th, 2011 at 13:07