By Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsDecember 8, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Dec. 8, 2010) -- In a particularly unpleasant moment after Army's loss to Notre Dame last month, Grant Nawoichyk was accosted by an overzealous Irish fan singing the school's fight song in his face.
If he wasn't a true believer of Army football this wouldn't have been so bad, but the 10-year-old West Point Middle School student takes every loss hard. He is, after all, Army's No. 1 fan and says this with all sincerity.
"I got a coin for it-not joking-from the athletics director," Grant said. "I've been a fan ever since I was born."
While he can't quantify the games he's seen, Grant is pretty sure he's been to most of them this decade.
"Grant is a die-hard Army sports fan," his father, Lt. Col. John Nawoichyk said. "He's been to all the home games, and only missed two away games this season."
His father compares Grant to a younger version of Col. Daniel Ragsdale, a highly energetic presence and fixture among the Corps of Cadets during Army football games.
"I think he's great. He lives and breathes Army football," Ragsdale, special adviser to the dean, said. "When we've come up just short a few times, he's devastated by it and I can relate in a very direct way to that."
Grant regularly attends practices and loves talking to the players, some of whom his Family sponsors and invites over to their home often.
"I love watching practices and seeing the drills they do," Grant said. "It's just fun. And after practices, they're all tired and I'll be there giving them high fives. They're all friendly."
To see Grant not in black and gold is indicative of a rare or special occasion.
"He will only wear Army clothes. In fact, for his school picture he had to wear a collared shirt, so of course, he wore a collared Army shirt," his father said.
Fellow fifth-grader Julia Flowers attests to Grant's preferred wardrobe.
"I've never not seen Grant wearing Army gear," she said.
Julia has also seen a fair share of Army games at West Point, and never gets tired of it.
"It's a great experience; seeing the crowds, cheering the team when they win," Julia said. "Even if they don't get the best score, you're still happy to have seen the game. It can be overwhelming."
The 11-year-old is also a supporter of the junior varsity squad, and attends games to watch her cousin, a yearling on the team. Nawoichyk said Army Athletics is embedded in the middle school. Morning announcements often include a "Go Army" message and students have opportunities to meet and talk with cadet-athletes. Every Friday before a game, students are allowed to wear Army gear.
"I think that is unique with all the sports programs here," he said. "The role models these athletes become to all these kids, and I don't think they all realize it, is evident in the way they interact with them. I think it's just great. If you go to the school, probably 90 percent of the kids have a favorite Army team and follow the players."
Both Julia and Grant are Army football fans and are enthusiastic to talk about their team. But when asked to name a favorite player, it was quite evident Grant could immediately rattle off a few names, but chose not to. It's about the team, not individuals. Julia also deflected the question.
Both predicted a win over Navy on Saturday. Grant is thinking 30-25 in Army's favor, while Julia called it 27-23 for Army.
"I think this is our year," Grant said. "Before, with Coach Brock, I think he just made a couple of mistakes. With Coach Ellerson, last year we did really well. This year, we're going to our first bowl game since 1996."
"I'm feeling pretty confident about Army this year," Julia said.
In the days before the big game, the Black Knights will receive a lot of pep talks; from coaches, mentors, senior leaders and from each other. If Grant and Julia had the chance to rally the team, this is what they'd say:
Grant: "Go out there, use all your skills and never give up. Use all your effort and take the halftime to get all your energy back. If the first half is bad, think about the second half as a whole new game."
Julia: "Play your hardest, don't give up and keep your chins held high."