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Army-Navy: Another Big Game

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page D03

The Army player who gets the most groundballs against Navy is presented a sword at graduation. That's about all Army has gotten from the rivalry recently. Navy has won seven in a row entering its game today at noon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

There is more than a sword at stake, however, for No. 4 Army and No. 6 Navy today. The winner likely will clinch the top seed and host the Patriot League tournament later this month.

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The Black Knights (9-1, 4-0) have a nine-game winning streak, their longest since 1958. Attackmen Jim Wagner (29 goals) and John Walker (21 goals, 21 assists) have scored more than half of the team's 98 goals.

The chances for Navy (8-2, 4-1) to stop them are helped by the return of senior starting defenseman Mitch Hendler. He will play after he suffered a minor concussion in the final seconds of a 9-8 win over Maryland last week.

A crowd of at least 10,000 is expected; school officials said that will include around 3,000 Midshipmen.

But the festive weekend also has a serious note. A game between graduates of Army and Navy was played last night at Rip Miller Field to help raise money for the Fallen Heroes Fund, which donates money to families of soldiers who were killed or severely disabled in the war in Iraq.

Around $110,000 had been donated as of yesterday; organizers originally hoped to raise $100,000 but have since raised their expectations to $250,000. Among those who played were former Army team captain John Fernandez, a 2001 graduate who lost both of his legs in the war in Iraq. Navy won the game, 10-6.

"I'm lucky to be in the position I am," said Bill O'Brien, a 1991 Army graduate who helped organize the game. "If I weren't in this situation and something had happened to me, I'd want somebody to try and take care of them."

Each player -- there are roughly 80 on each team -- donated $100 to play. They also solicited money from business associates and friends, and will host a tailgate today to raise more money through donations and raffles. (There were no donations accepted at the game because it was played at the academy, and fundraising on government property is illegal.)

"This isn't a normal alumni game," said Jamie Doffermyre, a lacrosse and football player at Navy in the late-1990s. "A game like this, where it's tied into something pretty special, a lot of guys wanted to come back and be a part of it. . . . These guys came together on their own and raised money on their own, because they know every dollar counts."

Some of the alumni continue to play lacrosse -- Doffermyre and O'Brien are on the same club team in New York City -- and at Army's annual alumni game in the fall, Fernandez played and scored a goal.

"But the other half of our roster," O'Brien said, "had to borrow sticks from their kids."

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