“It is a brotherhood. Everyone on the team has a shared goal and a shared mission. We’re all trying to accomplish it together,” said United States Merchant Marine Academy Assistant Coach Daniel May.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is the only Federal service academy with a civilian option and is located in Kings Point, N.Y. USMMA, which is renowned for its rigorous curriculum, demands more credits than any other federal service academy for a baccalaureate degree. Each wrestler will graduate debt-free with a Bachelor of Science degree, a U.S. Coast Guard license, and an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Every year, most of the students in each incoming class are among the top 20% of their high school cohort. Students that enroll in rigorous curricula such as honors, advanced placement, international baccalaureate, and dual-enrollment courses are given special consideration. Candidates must have successfully finished their high school education at a recognized secondary school or its equivalent in order to be appointed to the Academy. At least 15 units of credit must have been obtained by them: three English units, three mathematics units (from algebra, geometry, and trigonometry); one laboratory-based physics or chemical unit.
Candidates are strongly advised to complete four years of mathematics, including calculus, as well as physics and chemistry, according to the Academy. They must have undertaken a full academic course load.
The recruiting process for USMMA is similar to other schools in college wrestling. They look at the state placers, and their grades, and get a feel for their college plans or career plans. If your GPA is on the lower side, a military academy is most likely not going to be the best fit for you, even if it is a free education.
The Academy's Sea Year program, which gives midshipmen the chance to gain practical, real-world experience aboard operational commercial or military vessels traveling to ports across the world, complements this rigorous academic program. The wrestlers spend about 330 days out at sea going all over the world. “It makes wrestling a different experience here. It takes a special type of kid to be successful here,” said May. During the Sea Year, the midshipmen have the opportunity to see an average of 19 countries.
USMMA wrestlers have an off-season like all college programs, but many things make the experience at USMMA different. USMMA does not have semesters, they have trimesters. The wrestlers are taking around 19 credits a trimester. There are only one-to-two elective classes in four years. The classes are chosen for them. Plebes last term took classes such as Statics, Physics 2, and Chemistry. Most classes lean towards the STEM side. The “Deckies” took classes such as Terrestrial Navigation and Integrated Navigation. USMMA is a small school, so the wrestlers will often have the same classes and the same teachers. “It is a very nice program, but it is pretty unforgiving,” said May. Wrestlers can make up to $100,000 starting if they go into the maritime industry. If they choose active duty, they will be making six figures at their five-year mark. USMMA has had a few wrestlers after graduation join elite special warfare units like the Navy SEALS. “There are a lot of opportunities to do great things,” Coach May explained. “Because you have so many options, it is pretty hard to not find a career path that works for you.”
May also stated, “We were a younger team this past season, but our upperclassmen keep us solid.” Division III NCAA qualifier, James Cruz, has already had multiple job offers upon graduation. Senior captain Nate Johnson was the Valedictorian of his class and is currently completing a Master's Degree in engineering before he heads off to flight school. “Hard-working guys like our team make me excited to go to work every day,” May asserted. The team feeds off the hard worker chain. Vincent Renaut (2010) and Daniel Twito (2011) have both won National Champion titles for the USMMA. There have also been 11 All-Americans.
There are about six guys on the team going to Leatherneck, the opportunity to explore Marine Corps Officer Development. Midshipmen are assessed on their military prowess, leadership qualities, and physical fitness throughout the month-long course. At USMMA, it serves as the main evaluation method for Marine Corps hopefuls. Some of the wrestlers will be entering the Air Force and flight school for the Navy. Thirty percent of the wrestlers will be going on active duty after graduation.
“Our guys have their challenges, but it makes them stronger. Instead of having a coach responsible for you and holding you accountable, they have to hold themselves accountable (at sea),” explained May. When the wrestlers are out at sea during their designated times, they are not guaranteed to be together. There are instances where they could be the only athlete on the ship. The ship schedule has been adjusted so the wrestlers are not coming back late. They do not get their whole summer to train their junior year, but their sophomore year they do. The trimester before the season starts their senior year, they are out at sea.
USMMA is preparing wrestlers for success in their post-graduation lifestyles. If wrestlers are not doing well academically, they are not thinking about competing athletically. The wrestlers are driven so there is little opportunity for error.
The team has a buddy system. The third classman will take a plebe under his wing and go over his academics with him because he has already taken said class. A lot of the wrestlers have taken the same classes so the veterans make sure the younger ones have the resources they need to be successful in and out of the classrooms. “It is definitely like a family because everyone is watching over each other,” observed May.
USMMA is a great opportunity for wrestlers who want to continue to wrestle and want to go into the Maritime industry or the military. Wrestlers have the opportunity throughout the years at the Academy to explore different areas of the military instead of going to a specific Academy and picking one choice and having to stick with it. This can help prevent team turnover for wrestlers who have a general idea of what they want to do in the military, but still want to explore the options. Attending the Academy is a way for wrestlers to wrestle, serve their country, and at no cost.
May stated, “The student-athletes have to want to want this.” The USMMA Wrestling team brought in 15 new plebes, including a former PIAA AAA state placer on July 7, 2023. The regiment, the upperclassmen, return on July 23 for classes.