The lights were on and the field was set as the Navy ROTC team took the field to play its last IM flag football game of the season.
The players started throwing passes to each other to warm up for the match while smiling and exchanging stories ““ something they are unable to do at their ROTC training.
Before the referee blew his whistle, they gathered around to go over the plays one last time.
Then, they were ready to go.
This scenario describes all the teams that play intramural sports. But for the Navy ROTC, the objective was not to win, but to gain practice for their biggest match yet: the Blood Bowl.
The Blood Bowl, a tradition that has gone back for decades, is where the UCLA Navy ROTC plays the USC Navy ROTC in a flag football game in the spring. This is why its final record of 0-4 is trivial to the team.
“We saw it as an opportunity to figure out with our new guys how we were going to play when we get to the Blood Bowl,” said third-year atmospheric and oceanic sciences student Matt Schulteis. “We weren’t ever worried about the score.”
Exactly at the same time and same place, only a couple of days before, the Army ROTC team was preparing to play its last flag football game of the regular season in the B-league.
And just like the Navy ROTC, the Army ROTC’s goal going into the season was not to win, but to enjoy an activity where everyone was equal. It was an opportunity to have fun, get to know the other players and strengthen the bonds they have.
“You are not calling anyone “˜sir’ on the field,” said first-year anthropology student Cass Glasser. “It gives us one more thing to joke about, really. I found specifically coming into college that I had no friends, and then since I joined the ROTC I had friends that I would see every single day. Just like that, I became really good friends with these guys.”
The members from the branches of the ROTC are expected to follow a strict and hierarchical discipline.
Their day begins as early as 5 a.m., when they will have 1-2 hours of physical training. Each person’s training varies, but it includes anything from 500 lunges to an 8-mile run. Other days, they will be in the classroom learning military proficiency courses or doing hands-on work.
This training is reflected in the team’s disciplined play. Referees noticed their sportsmanship when the team would shake the hands of its opponents after their games, and it was obvious to spectators that the team’s offense was well-organized.
Flag football is one of many activities on the average ROTC student’s schedule.
Many also volunteer, fundraise and have jobs on top of a regular college student’s course load.
“The military is shaped to push each member to its limits; to prove to themselves what they can actually accomplish,” fourth-year business economics student Chris Klein said.
“We’re constantly challenged, we are expected to perform at the highest level and that is how we train and that is how we think, because once you are at that level, nothing is really that difficult anymore.”
Although the Navy’s goal was to get practice and the Army’s was to have fun, it is undeniable that flag football denoted one of the easiest and most fun things they had to do all day.
In their ROTC training, students are expected to respect the person who is ranked above them, but when they are out on the IM Field, they are all equal.
“When we are here, we run it as in a unit out in the military. We have positions and we respect the positions. There is a hierarchy, just like there would be in the regular military,” Schulteis said.
“When we are in the football field, we are just getting to know each other, trying to have fun.”
The clock hit 10 p.m.
The lights at the IM Field turned off. And the season for the ROTC teams came to an end.
Their records of 0-4 (Navy) and 1-3 (Army) would designate failure for many of the other teams that are playing, but for the Navy and Army ROTC teams, the tournament represented something fun outside their strict schedule.
Besides, their biggest test is still ahead of them.