At Quantico High School, football is 'part of the mission'

Go behind the scenes with the Quantico High School football team during practice and game day. The team explains some of its traditions and seniors Chase King and Roddrick Mitchell talk about how the junior ROTC drill team is similar to the football team.
By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 11:09 PM

After funneling out of the former air raid shelter that serves as their locker room, Quantico High football players pass a memorial to the field's namesake, Pvt. Michael J. Fenton, a Quantico graduate killed in World War II. The crowd on game night is more likely to include snipers or amphibious warfare experts in training than accountants, plumbers or lawyers.

So even before the Warriors, who have 25 players on their roster, flank out into two lines and trod down worn paths to the field - they bypass the staircase to avoid taking the easy way - their school, and football experience, is unlike any other in the Washington area.

Quantico High is run by the Defense Department, and only the children of military families who live on Quantico Marine Base can attend the school, which has an enrollment of approximately 140. It is not a military school, but there are similarities between what the players' parents are asked to do in the service and what the Warriors are asked to do on the football field: Organize, adapt and integrate with strangers for a common purpose, in a short period of time, each with well-defined responsibilities.

Just as Marines are riflemen first, all Quantico football players must learn to block and tackle, regardless of their size or speed. In time, linemen learn to play wide receiver and quarterbacks learn how to line up in a three-point stance because the Warriors change positions so often, even during a game.

The saying goes that "Once a Marine, always a Marine," but what the motto neglects to mention is that Marines do not stay put for long, and neither do Quantico football players. Their families, often at Quantico to instruct or to attend courses, are transferred to other duty stations usually within three years of arriving on base.

That makes for an annual ritual in August when the coaches see what sort of talent might be on hand for the upcoming season. Some years are leaner than others.

"We get a kid for two years, we're lucky," said the team's coach, John Hubert, who has been at the school in various capacities for 16 years. "Three years is pretty amazing."

For many of the players, football is a way to find a sense of belonging in a life of hellos and goodbyes and not-yet-learned phone numbers that define their families' uprooted lifestyles. Bonded by similar experiences, the Warriors make fast friends and gain almost automatic acceptance shortly after they're waved through the base's guarded checkpoint - at least until they "PCS" (permanent change of station) again.

"We know what it's like to be the new guy," said senior Chase King, on his 13th address and the Warrior most likely to knock on a new kid's door and coax him to play football. "We have to adapt every place we go. We come in, we play. We're just like the Marines, pretty much."

One is less likely to hear football games described in militaristic terms at Quantico because "battle" takes on an entirely different context for the 20,000 Marines and civilians who work on the base, which stretches over southeastern Prince William County and into Stafford and Fauquier counties.

"For me and my family, sports are a way to get away from the Marine Corps life, because my dad is deployed a lot in his career," said senior Anthony Tagliabue, who is living on Quantico for the second time and has spent three stints at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina and others in South Carolina and Nebraska. "One of the outlets that we get our minds off him deploying and him in combat is to play football. In sports, we can take our aggression that my dad's gone out on somebody else."

"We're part of the mission," Hubert said. "The dads entrust their kids to us. They might be gone. 'Take care of my son. I've got to go fight a war.' That's some heavy stuff."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company