For about six years now the US Naval Academy and US Air Force Academy have traded visits between their rugby teams, the trips usually coinciding with their respective football teams also making a visit.
The rugby teams play on Friday, spend time together, and attend the football game the following day.
It’s an important game – every match between Service Academies is – and it’s also a chance to revel in the brotherhood of the game, and the calling the players will answer in the years to come.
This year, Navy defeated Air Force 24-10 in a hotly-contested match at the Prusmack Rugby Center at the Brigade Sports Complex. Jon Prusmack, who owns USA 7s and RUGBYMag.com, is also a big supporter of rugby in the military. However, another important name was associated with this match for the first time, and a wholly appropriate association it is.
Kevin Shea attended the Air Force Academy on a football scholarship beginning in 1984. At 6-4, 230 pounds he was an imposing force on the team, and later on the rugby field as well, helping Air Force to a national title in 1989, his senior year.
Upon graduation Shea cross-commissioned, which meant he asked for, and received, a commission in another branch of the military (that option remains open to Service Academy grads, but now they must find someone at another academy to take his or her spot). He became an officer in the US Marine Corps, and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the early 1990s.
Upon returning to the USA, Shea joined the US Naval Academy staff and was a coach for the Navy rugby team. He was respected by everyone who knew him.
Shea was deployed to Iraq in the second Iraq war, and was killed in action on his 40th birthday, September 14, 2004. Shea could have been home then, but had deferred that return in favor of other, younger Marines.
On Friday, the trophy awarded the winner of the Navy v. Air Force game was named after Lt. Col. Kevin Shea.
“It was very important that we did that,” said Navy Head Coach Mike Flanagan, who knew Shea. “ he has a connection with both academies. There’s a statue of him at the Air Force Academy. His brother Tom and other members of his family came to the game; he was a special person. He epitomized the warrior ethos, and I get choked up just thinking about him.”
The trophy is a small token of honor for a member of the rugby community who died serving his country.
“In the end we played a game, and it’s just a game,” said Flanagan. “But when you use it to honor someone, and come together like that, it becomes more than a game. I think Kevin would appreciate that. We will play for it every year.”