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Naval Academy's 13th Company starts 128-mile Ball Run to Philadelphia

In a tribute to the Iwo Jima flag-raising, exchange midshipmen studying at West Point plant a special flag on the Plain as the annual rivalry escalates as the game approaches.

U.S. NAVY

By RACHAEL PACELLA | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: December 8, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — And they’re off.

The Naval Academy and the Military Academy’s football teams will meet on the field in Philadelphia at 3 p.m. Saturday, and the official game balls for the match are now en route.

Each year the academy’s “unlucky” 13th Company runs the balls to the game, typically held in Philadelphia. This year roughly 150 company members will split up and relay the ball in 13 legs, spanning roughly 128 miles, on a police-escorted route that takes them through Baltimore to the city of brotherly love in Pennsylvania.

Just a little 128-mile jog, Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter said. Carter and other academy leaders joined the 13th Company for the first leg of the trip, which left from Tecumseh Court at 7:15 a.m. Friday. The relay is expected to take 28 hours.

Each leg of the journey is about 9.8 miles. And the run is continuous — the company will be out jogging in the dead of night, including through a Winter Weather Advisory that begins at midnight.

The tradition of running the ball to the Army-Navy game began in 1982, to build spirit and rid the perception of an “unlucky” 13th Company. And it seems to have worked — since the tradition started, Navy’s series lead over Army has gotten larger. Navy won in 1982, bringing their series lead over Army to two games. That lead is now at 10 games, as Navy has won 60 times, Army has won 50 times, and the teams have tied seven times.

Carter credits the 13th Company for that lead, and wants to bring it to 11, he said Friday morning. They’re also going for their 11th Commander-In-Chief’s trophy win in 15 years, and their 11th win at Lincoln Financial Field, Carter said.

“11, 11, 11, with 13,” he told the company.

Ball Run Commander Midshipman 1st Class Jessica Velez of Chicago has taught other company members the importance of the tradition. Some of her best memories are from past ball runs.

“This singular event has been the best bonding experience for the company all four years,” she said.

One of the runners from the 13th Company is a local student, Midshipman 3rd Class Tommy Miller of West River. He will run from 2:20 p.m. today to 4:40 p.m.

“It’s going to be fun to be part of this tradition,” he said.

How do the runners keep their spirits up in the wee hours of the morning?

Midshipman 2nd Class Peter Lindsey, Jr. said during his plebe year he ran the 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. leg. He is in his third year, and said the way to get through those early morning hours is to smile, crack jokes and play music.

“If you try to make it fun, it will be,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey’s parents, Peter and Marianne, and younger brother Sean watched as the first leg of the run left from Tecumseh Court. They flew in from their home state of Washington to attend the Army-Navy Game. And, of course, to see their son take part in the run.

“It’s one of the amazing traditions that we’re so impressed with, by both academies actually, because Army does it too,” the father said.

The cadets run their own game ball to Philadelphia from West Point, New York.

The company was wearing matching shirts for the run, which featured the phrase “Lucky 13” and a shamrock. So, is the 13th Company unlucky?

“I think 14 wins in a row speaks for itself,” Lindsey said. “I think we’re pretty dang lucky.”

©2017 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)
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