February 25, 2010

Athletes answering call to duty

— His final exam finished last spring, James Lathrop left Bowdoin College for six weeks in Northern Virginia. Saw a lot of sun and felt temperatures that weren't as hot as usual.

He didn't lack for companionship, and was so busy he didn't get nearly enough sleep. He ate well enough, but still lost a little weight.

He couldn't invite his hometown friends or his football teammates to hang out. He didn't keep in touch, either. Better to tell them afterward and deal with their reactions then.

''It was the best time to be completely miserable,'' said Lathrop, laughing. How could he explain he was at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, attending his first session of Officer Candidate School? Who would understand?

Start with the six Bowdoin student-athletes since 2002 who preceded him to Quantico with a shared sense of duty to country. Maybe it was the memory of the World Trade Center towers coming down, eight years ago today.

For Lathrop it was something bigger. ''I get the right to have this or do that. I have a sense of how lucky I am to be here, in this country. I owe something.''

He wasn't preaching. He had this belief when he was in high school in Westerly, R.I. When he arrived at Bowdoin he found others on the football team who had the same thoughts. Last year's captain, Jack Dingess, was sworn in as a Marine Corps officer with Pack Janes, a lacrosse player, hours after Bowdoin's commencement last spring.

Brendan Murphy, a captain of the 2006 team is now 2nd Lt. Brendan Murphy, USMC, serving with America's Battalion in Afghanistan. Teammate David Donahue, also a lacrosse captain, graduated 11th in a class of 282 from The Basic School, which follows OCS. He, too, is a 2nd lieutenant.

Katherine (Forney) Petronio, played ice hockey and golf and got her Marines commission after graduation in 2007 and was serving in Iraq.

''I wish I could take credit,'' said Bowdoin football coach Dave Caputi, ''but I can't. My father was a Marine. That's the closest I come. This is about their character and leadership. When they came back from Quantico, they didn't talk much about it. You could see it more in their presence on the football field and the way younger players saw them as examples. It's the culture we have.''

The perception that Bowdoin is a liberal college for the privileged dies hard. Joshua Chamberlain left Bowdoin to fight in the Civil War and hold the battle line at Gettysburg. Everett Pope left Bowdoin to win the Medal of Honor on Peleliu Island in World War II. Andrew Haldane, a Bowdoin football captain, lost his life on Peleliu. Pope helped initiate the Haldane Cup at Bowdoin, which goes to someone displaying leadership and character.

Lathrop talked about Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals linebacker who left the NFL to enlist in the Army, joining the elite Rangers unit. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

''I sure can't compare my football career to his,'' said Lathrop. ''I could never earn that much money playing football. But he definitely is inspirational to me.''

At a luncheon of Maine college football coaches last month, Caputi mentioned the Quantico experience, almost in passing. He didn't want to trumpet his players' participation in OCS. Publicity isn't their bottom line.

Caputi will talk freely of Lathrop, the running back. ''He squeezes out every ounce of talent he has. His teammates respond to his physical presence.''

They'll look at the example he sets, just as Lathrop looked to Dingess.

Six weeks at Quantico compared with several weeks of Bowdoin's preseason? Lathrop laughs. Don't even try.

''We were challenged at Quantico. Sleep deprivation, things like that. They want to find out if you can handle the stress of what being a Marine is all about. Then you can go back for the second six weeks.''

Lathrop didn't commit to a Quantico return. My guess is, he will.

He feels he owes. Don't we all.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

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