By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Westborough – While their fellow classmates will likely spend the lazy, hazy days of summer walking beaches, gathering with friends and just doing the fun things that teenagers do, it will be an altogether different experience for Westborough High School (WHS) indoor and outdoor track and field captains Oren Dennett and Bradley Whitehall.
Both 2015 graduates will report to the United States Military Academy at West Point, some 50 miles north of New York City, June 29 to begin a four-year arduous curriculum that will lead to an eventual Army assignment. Both Dennett and Whitehall will enter as “cadets,” not freshmen, and will be held to rigorous standards emphasizing academic, military leadership, physical fitness and athletic performance. Each has embraced the experience to come and are quick to acknowledge that sports and positive influences along the way have made a difference.
Both started sports at an early age experimenting with a variety of athletic activities, but none really clicked. Dennett admits to being “really, really bad” at sports until he discovered track though the influence of his sister who ran. He joined the track team and was far from a natural, but through hard work and tenacity, he rose to become a senior captain. Among his accomplishments are league championships in the mile indoor and outdoor in 2014 and qualification for districts in the 4-by-8 relay as a freshman.
A military education has been on the radar screen for a long time and when the opportunity arose, Dennett pounced on the chance to attend one of the most reputable institutions in the world.
“I initially wanted to go to the Naval Academy,” he said. “I didn’t want to grow old and look back and feel like I didn’t accomplish anything. I wanted to do everything I could to live a life that had meaning.”
Last year, Dennett spent a week at West Point living in the barracks.
“We got up every morning at 5 a.m. and basically lived the life of someone at the Academy. That’s when I decided I wanted to go to West Point. The people in charge that week were students from West Point. They were only a couple of years older than me. But if you talk to them, you would think they were adults. They were so positive in everything they did and everything was treated with respect. That really had an impact on me.”
He noted that he participated in leadership training, drills and barracks meetings.
“It was very regimented and intense but everyone who was there wanted to be there,” he said.
Both Dennett and Whitehall credit faculty and friends at WHS as positive role models but are quick to single out track and field coach Roger Anderson as perhaps having the most impact.
“Coach Anderson has definitely had a huge impact on me,” acknowledged Dennett. “He always demands the best and expects the best out of people. He demands great character and he’s all about living a life with integrity. His devotion to excellence and integrity really have impacted me. He’ll tell you I wasn’t the same person four years ago that I am today. But through four years of running and being under his leadership, I’ve really changed for the better.”
“Coach Anderson has been very influential for me,” added Whitehall. “He’s helped me reach the point where I am today. As a freshman, I was really timid and quiet and lacked confidence. In his program with track, I’ve learned to work hard and grown a lot. He taught me how to push myself and I’ve learned so much under his influence. “
Both have had the support of family which has been meaningful, particularly for Whitehall whose grandfather is an Army veteran. The admissions process was demanding and rigorous requiring sound academics, leadership skills, physical endurance and even a nomination by a congressman or senator. Each met all the requirements that will send them both off to the academy in a few short weeks. A minimum of five years military commitment following graduation is mandatory.
“I’m incredibly excited that I get such an opportunity at such a prestigious school,” Dennett said. “I’m also nervous because everyone there is an impressive person who deserves to be there. It’s a lot. It’s basically boot camp over the summer. It’s a lot of physical, emotional and mental challenge so it’s going to be a lot to deal with and you always wonder if you’re going to be good enough.”
Whitehall’s venture into sports was at an early age as well and nothing really struck a chord until middle school when he began track. He has stuck with it ever since competing in a several events including high hurdles, long jump, triple jump and pole vault. He participated in district competition last year and was third on the team in total points.
Whitehall, like Dennett, was drawn to the idea of a military education early on and similarly had parallel interests.
“I’ve always been pretty drawn to the military aspect,” said Whitehall, who has also earned recognition as an Eagle Scout. “I’ve always wanted to do something a little more important than a desk job. I wanted something more exciting and rewarding, something that benefited more than just me.”
During his sophomore year, Whitehall went on a Boy Scout trip to West Point, then a day visit as a junior and an overnight visit this past year.
“After visiting overnight, it was very clear to me that West Point was the right place for me,” he said. “Everyone was so great there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something I really want to do.
“I’m definitely excited and anxious, not too nervous yet. That will probably come as it gets closer . But every cadet I talked to there said not to be nervous because everyone that has come through has been where I’m going to be.”
Perhaps no one has enjoyed watching both grow physically and emotionally as Coach Anderson.
“They’ve both come a long way,” he said. “I don’t think either of them coming in as freshmen would lead you to believe that this is the path they would choose and would have done enough to earn the right. But they’ve really grown in the four years to the point that they are captains and they are leaders.
“Watching them grow and develop has been the most meaningful thing to me. They came in as freshmen and didn’t blow anybody away. They made mistakes and learned from it. They’ve embraced a spirit of growth and are committed to continuous improvement for life. To me, that’s a huge key to being successful. They are always striving to improve.”
The two agreed it will help to share the experience with a longtime friend.
“I’m definitely going to look to Bradley for friendship and support,” admitted Dennett. “I’m really going to enjoy having him there. Someone from home being there will be great.”