WEST POINT, TO THEE

By Senior Bennett Taylor Men’s Lacrosse

The Lingering Flame
I told them about a fire, about the simple combination of fuel with a spark. With numb feet and a slight quiver in my voice, I predicted the fiercest blaze would smolder over that frozen field on Michie Stadium in February.
Odds are I wasn’t supposed to give my senior speech to my teammates that day. Growing up in Tampa, local lacrosse players just did not play college lacrosse on the scale of those from Fort Lauderdale or Jacksonville, not even mentioning traditional hotbeds in Baltimore and Long Island.
But with a chance sighting and tremendous support from coaches and family all along the way, I found myself speaking to 60 of the greatest men I know on that brisk dark Friday night. But it mattered not where we had come from—all that mattered was what we had cultivated since our first days at the academy, and the family that we had created with those in the locker room.
I would contend that the senior speech, in conjunction with carrying the American flag out on a gameday, marks the major milestone in the lifespan of an Army lacrosse player –a fulfillment of sorts.
It means you’ve made it through four rounds of fall ball, notorious for the heat and the hyper competition that our practices and lifts foster. It means you have evolved from a wide-eyed freshmen attempting to survive in practice (especially in my case) to a leader of those beneath you. Most importantly it means that you and your classmates only have a few months of competition left with each other and the Army Lacrosse Family.
Little did any of us know this precious time together would come to a grinding halt far ahead of schedule. We didn’t know that some of us would not give our speech or carry the flag. We didn’t anticipate that Thursday, March 12, 2020, would mark our last practice in an Army jersey. Our fire, it seemed, had gone out. But the flame had only begun.
The flame I speak of begins with the fuel. It must be accumulated, struggled for, dutifully collected daily. For our team this consists of the daily contribution of everyone associated with the team.
If we practiced together, diligent attention to detail and focused effort on and off the field built up the foundation of future success. For outside scheduled activity, the extra work put in by every member of the team built a culture that many speak of but few actualize.
Luckily for me I came to the program with some of the hardest working men I call my classmates and closest friends. All of these men carried themselves in a way that inspired those beneath them (and each other) to strive for higher goals for themselves and each other to collect their fuel daily. They all showed humility at every stage, whether as freshmen followers or senior leaders. They especially showed me how to care for one another in all aspects of our lives.
To you guys—Sean, Connor, Alex, Ryan, Ethan, Miles, Anthony, Luke, Matt, Peter and Tom—I cannot express the gratitude I have for you all.
But, as we all know, our hard work coincides with decades of Army Lacrosse classes who modeled this behavior. Every class of men that we shared a team with modeled that behavior and taught us new lessons, regardless if they were older or younger. This, to me, models the difference of the Army Lacrosse Family.
Hard work, extreme selflessness, compassion for one another—it is simply expected of the Army Lacrosse player. I consider myself extremely fortunate to experience this family for the last four years.
The fuel continues to grow, day after day by this unending cycle. The tradition of excellence that precedes you, the family that supports you at every step of the journey, and the hard work of each member of the program in the sport we love. The only thing remaining is the spark.
As I explained to the team that night, the spark proves more elusive, more personalized. Put simply, it brings out your very best. This spark takes a unique form to everyone.
To myself, I explained that my gameday face paint was my spark, as it was the same design my older brother donned during his playing days. He had taught me how to love and respect the game as we played together growing up. The simple act of putting it on ignited me into a frenzy, transforming me when I hit the field.
If everyone in that huddle could do the same, our blaze could not be tamed. On that gameday we quite literally smoked our opponent.
At the time I believed that spark unique to the sport I loved for so many years. I thought that after it was all over, I would not experience such a rush again without the game. But now, faced with an early exit from it, I realize that the spark, and the fire that ensues, had grown out of the love that Army lacrosse embedded in me from the first day.
While my class may never don our Army-Navy jerseys for our final year or get the opportunity to compete for one last national championship, I know that the spark of the Army Lacrosse Family will remain within us the rest of our days.
For that I can only say thank you—to my teammates, my coaches, my Army Lacrosse Family—for the opportunity of a lifetime.

—Bennett Taylor, 43 (R)