Athletes, coaches honored for character during Coach K Awards

By Brandon O’Connor Assistant editor

May 9th, 2019 | In Focus, News
  Class of 2019 Cadet Dalton MacAfee, who is a co-captain of the hockey team, earned the corps squad athlete award and stands with Mike Krzyzweski after receiving his Mike Krzyzewski Teaching Character Through Sport Award Monday at the Cadet Mess Hall.
 U.S. Military Academy athletes and coaches competing at the corps squad, competitive club and company levels were honored Monday evening with the 13th annual Mike Krzyzewski Teaching Character Through Sport Award. Krzyzewski , USMA Class of 1969, who played basketball as a cadet and served as the head coach prior to taking his current job at Duke, speaks to the audience.  Photos by Bryan Ilyankoff/PAO

U.S. Military Academy athletes and coaches competing at the corps squad, competitive club and company levels were honored Monday evening with the 13th annual Mike Krzyzewski Teaching Character Through Sport Award.
One athlete and coach at each level of competition was honored during a banquet Monday and presented with a medal by Krzyzewski, USMA Class of 1969, who played basketball as a cadet and served as the head coach prior to taking his current job at Duke.
The corps squad awards were presented to Michael Smith, head track and field coach, and Class of 2019 Cadet Dalton MacAfee, who is a co-captain of the hockey team.
“It means a lot. It is not something you ever think you’ll amount to. To win it is so humbling and I feel lucky,” MacAfee said. “To interview for that was surreal and to win it is incredible. There are so many great people at this place. That is what makes West Point so special. To be considered at that kind of level is really such an honor.”
The competitive club awards were presented to Kenneth Allen, the officer-in- charge of the triathlon team, and Class of 2019 Cadet Tyler Reece, who is a member of the marathon team.
At the company level, the sports educator award was presented to Maj. Robert Squire, who oversees the submission grabbling program and the athlete award was presented to Class of 2019 Cadet Ethan Press, who plays on Company I-1’s handball team.
“It means a lot,” Squire said. “We put a lot of time and effort into company athletics and I think a lot of times the company athletics are misunderstood for what they’re trying to accomplish. People get frustrated with it in terms of the time and effort they put into it.
“They miss the lessons they are learning in terms of building teams of significance and having to be a leader on and off the field. These experiences mean a lot over the years,” he added.
Prior to the awards banquet at the Cadet Mess Hall, the winners and finalists for the awards participated in a leadership roundtable with Krzyzewski and academy leaders to talk about character and how it can be built through athletics.
“It is a huge honor. I got to speak with Coach K earlier today and got to talk about character and being a leader. Receiving an award that is a representation of him and the character he holds is a huge honor,” Press said. “It is a humbling to receive this and be nominated by my peers. It is a sign that I am doing something right apparently and representing a small portion of what Coach K is.”
Krzyzewski’s lessons about leadership were not offered exclusively to attendees of the roundtable, though, as he gave opening remarks at the banquet before presenting the awards bearing his name.
As a member of the Class of 2019’s 50-year affiliate class, Krzyzewski said he will be back at West Point in a few weeks to celebrate his 50-year class reunion.
Although the point is to celebrate 50 years since graduation, Krzyzewski said what he will truly be celebrating is 50 years of being a leader, first as an Army officer and then as a college basketball coach.
“I learned to become a leader here and I learned to become a leader that has character,” Krzyzewski said. “There is no school in the world that is better than this school at teaching leadership and teaching character. We are all amazingly lucky to be touched by this great school and the people who have dedicated their lives to making it better.”
One of the lessons he said he has learned in his years as a leader has been to change and adapt in order to connect with those you are leading. Whether it is an 18-year-old basketball phenom like Zion Williamson or a platoon of Soldiers in the Army, connecting and building relationships is the key to leading, Krzyzewski said.
“Continue to change and adapt, get better and stay current,” Krzyzewski said. “As a result, you will establish the key thing in leadership and that is relationships. Trusting character-filled relationships with your team.  That changes all the time, how to connect. What never changes is what do you connect with? That is the constant. The things you don’t change are the things you are learning right now and they’re not in the books. They are called values.”
In the 54 years since he arrived at Beast Barracks, which Krzyzewski said was the most important day in his life after his wedding and the births of his daughters, the values he said he has found you cannot waiver in are integrity, respect, courage, selfless service, duty, trust and loyalty.