By Senior Cole Stacklin-Jarvis Men’s Rugby

  Photo by Army Athletic Communications

Beyond the Pitch
Hello, my name is Cole Stacklin-Jarvis. I am from a small town known as New Washington, Ohio, and I want to tell you about what Army rugby means to me.
There are very few words that can truly explain what the sport of rugby has done for me. In short, it has given me lifelong friends, a lifestyle of fitness and a mentality of maturity and grit that is growing rare. But with this opportunity to show my appreciation, I want to dive a little deeper and elaborate on my personal journey through West Point as a member of the Army rugby team.
In 2015, I got a letter of acceptance to the United States Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS). For me, this was a dream come true. I had worked for over a year to get into West Point and that letter was my ticket. Shortly after receiving the letter, I found out that my mother was sick with cancer. My senior year of high school changed very fast. Leaving home was not easy by any means, but my Navy veteran mother of 23 years in the reserves would not let that slide. The transition from home to the Army was a testimonial time in my faith. I became closer to God than I had ever been, and I grew up pretty fast.
While at USMAPS I walked on to the football team where I got to enjoy one more season of my favorite childhood sport. Getting that opportunity was a dream come true as well, but I knew it would not last long after that one year. I battled in the classroom at USMAPS and during that year I lost one of my grandfathers.
In a trying year, being a part of that team was an anchor for me. I have been a student-athlete since the age of five, it’s the only world I have ever known. Being a part of a team was something that was just so ingrained in me that I could not go without playing some sport.
So, in the fall of 2016 upon completion of Beast Barracks I made the decision to try out for the rugby team. The only experience with rugby I had up to that point was a couple runs down during mass athletics held during beast. My uncle and father played rugby when they were younger, but I was never really close with them growing up, so rugby was still so foreign to me.
I will never forget my brother from USMAPS football, Davonte Carter Vault, making the transition with me. We had heard about the history of the team, “the winningest team at West Point” and it caught our attention because it did not seem to differ much from football and we felt like we could fit in. So, we went for it. In a way we both pushed each other to make this team.
During our first days of tryouts, I was just grateful for the opportunity to be there and learn the game. Every tryout there is a scrimmage to assist in the coaches’ selection process. I was nervous because I had never played a second of rugby in competition before. In just one week, I learned some skills and technique.
One day in the mess hall I recognized the captain of the team, Luke Heun ‘17, a name I will always look up to, and sought out some advice. “Just be aggressive and get after it.” That was all he said, and all I needed to hear. After a dog fight for a spot, I was told I made the team and I could not believe it. I was relieved and incredibly grateful. Having the opportunity to connect with a new team and learn about this sport was a blessing.
Though it was fun to be playing the sport and being a part of such a unique team, my plebe year was a struggle for me. I ended my first semester with a 1.68 GPA sitting at 1199 out of just over 1200 in class rank. I had one F and one D on my academic record already. I thought my time on the team was over.
I was terrified that I may have lost the part of my cadet world that helped me escape from the academic challenges I faced daily. Some teachers and even my TAC Officer recommended that I stop playing. But fortunately for me, I did not have to stop playing. Having the experience of USMAPS under my belt I knew what resources I needed to take advantage of, so I did. I kept God close to my heart and worked harder.
After days’ worth of additional instruction and mentorship, the second semester started looking up for a while. Then life started to hit me again and I did not know what would happen next.
If I had not been able to fall back on my brothers on the rugby team, I would not have lasted at the academy. I lost six family members while at West Point. Just like when school got tough that first semester, through those painful moments and saying goodbyes, rugby was an outlet for me. One specific memory that I will never forget was when I found out about my Aunt Traci passing away.
I woke up on a Saturday morning in State College, Pa., where our A side was preparing to play Penn State in the 2017 tournament. I was in a house full of my brothers and just before the game my sister called me to tell me the news. That news was overwhelming, but in that moment, my brothers were able to pick me up and help me along the way.
Fast forward into my first semester cow year. I lost my grandmother who was very close to me. Again, while I was gone to be with my family for the memorial services, my teammates were always reaching out to keep my head up as best they could because they knew it meant something. Supporting each other off the pitch is, arguably, more important than anything you can do for a teammate in the middle of a match.
Since my plebe year, I have been a part of our team’s voluntary bible study, now called the Brother’s Prayer Group (BPG). As I stayed in tune with my faith, as best I could, I considered this group an outlet too. We met once a week as often as possible to worship and pray for one another and the goals, challenges and blessings we have. This year, my firstie year, I had the opportunity to lead this group of men. It was both a humbling and developmental experience for me, spiritually, that I am forever grateful for.
In my short rugby career of just four years, I learned a valuable lesson. Rugby is much more than a game. Like many sports, it is a culture. A culture of toughness, tenacity, grit and ultimately respect. There are often fun moments when ruggers can celebrate with the opposing team after a match. There even more tough moments in training, competing physically for a top side jersey and preparing for the demands of the game. Then, there are the moments that have nothing to do with the game itself, where you find yourself as part of the group that you make all of those memories with. You form bonds that can last a lifetime.
I once told our team that if we want to call each other brothers we must mean it. To use such a title for someone signifies that there is more than a friendship. It shows that the respect, trust and encouragement you can seek and take from one another is limitless. It is what makes us family. Our brotherhood. Our legacy.
There are countless stories about brothers that have come before us that have been shared throughout the years and they all circle back to one main thing. The legacy. See, the legacy is something that we all live up to as best we can each and every day.
It is our job and duty to “leave the jersey in a better place than we found it.” Collectively, our team tries to implement this role everywhere in our lives. On the pitch, in the classroom, in our cadet leadership positions and eventually as officers in the United States Army. When one person slips, we all do. Our coach once taught us that one mistake teaches 60 lessons and that could not be more correct. However, when one person succeeds, we all do too.
We represent more than ourselves. It is our team, our academy, our families and every other person or thing that helped us get to the places we are today. That is why this year in particular has been so strange.
Before this journey began, I never would have thought that I would be in the position I am today. A pandemic flipped our world around. Our final spring season has been cut short, and we are all adjusting remotely from home. I will probably never play another rugby match again. But still, I have climbed from my 1.68 to a 2.43 GPA now as a firstie and I will finish strong.
At 23 years old, I have a gorgeous fiancé who has also been beside me for most of this journey. I will soon finish my education at West Point and embark on my new journey as an Infantry Officer and husband.
Though there have been some losses and down moments in my experience, there was never a single moment where I felt lost or unable to turn to someone on my team for support. And that is something that no season, or pandemic, can ever take away.
To my brothers, my family, and EVERYONE that has helped me get to where I am today, I want to thank you. Without your help, none of this would be possible for me.

Brothers on 3,
—Cole “Choo-Choo” Stacklin-Jarvis