Sixteen miles down the road from Fort Bragg, N.C., military Family members and neighbors at Jack Britt High School have spent the past five months demonstrating the same confidence, leadership and dedication practiced each day by the post's airborne and special-operations Soldiers.
With a new head coach -- former NFL offensive tackle Brian Rimpf -- taking the helm, the school's varsity football team was rumored in the school's hallways to be in for a rebuilding year. On Dec. 1, however, Jack Britt football players knew it was no accident they were standing on the field of the Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., playing for the 4AA North Carolina State Championship.
The team's season was no easy journey, and the players and their Families found special inspiration in Rimpf's younger brother, 1st. Lt. Nathan Rimpf, a wounded warrior who lost both his legs in July 2012, while serving as a platoon leader deployed to Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Nathan, who is moving forward with his rehabilitation at Fort Bragg's warrior transition unit, visited with and spoke to the team on several occasions throughout the season.
"Ever since Coach Rimpf got here, he emphasized us being Family," said Bryce Holevas, a senior member of the team. "After what happened to his brother, it brought us together and made us want to work harder, because there are people who don't have the chance to do what we do. We have this chance."
Ryan King, a freshman defensive end for Jack Britt, agreed that Nathan's visits resonated deeply for those teammates with military connections.
"With parents being in the military, you just think that they could go through an accident like the one that happened to Coach Rimpf's brother," Ryan said. "It just makes you think about what could happen."
Both Bryce and Ryan have Family connections to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, based out of Fort Bragg. Bryce's father, Lt. Col. John Holevas, commands 6th Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne), which runs advanced special operations and intelligence courses. Ryan's father is a retired Soldier, and his mother, Arlene King, is an Army civilian employee and the secretary to the 1st SWTG(A) commander. These two students make up only a small part of the team who saw the military values learned through their Families come out during practice and on the playing field.
"Attributes like integrity and honor were important on this team," Lt. Col. Holevas said. "They were forced to be as a Family. The fact is that no one individual was better than the team, and the coaching staff did a fabulous job of reiterating that."
"It's a lot of the same values that we expect of our Soldiers as well," Arlene said. "I guess we live the values at work, and then we bring it home to our kids."
"With those values, you can see where it brings you, in this case it was the North Carolina state championship game," Lt. Col. Holevas said.
Having completed his senior season, Bryce is leaving the team with a sense of accomplishment, he said. Due to his father's assignment history, Jack Britt is his third high school over the past four years, and he sat out his junior-year football season with a broken elbow.
"I'll always remember this season, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life," Bryce said, promising to return from college for as many games as possible next year. "Just to support the Family that I've made here," he said.
Ryan, on the other hand, is looking forward to another crack at the state title in his sophomore season. Having lost to Matthews Butler High School from Charlotte, N.C. in the 2012 championship game, Ryan said they've got the chance and motivation to win it in 2013.
"My parents have always encouraged me to do better, and keep fighting through the whole game, instead of giving up when you get behind," Ryan said. "I think we've still got a lot of great key players, and we'll continue to build on what Coach has been telling us to do throughout the whole season."
Arlene credits the team's success, and determination, to the school's close connection with Fort Bragg and the U.S. Army.
"We're lucky that we're in this community," Arlene said. "It takes a lot to be a military Family."