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Falcons all the way!

November 18th, 2012

Filed under Animals, Life, Nature, People, Sports

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United States Air Force Academy cadet Danielle Cortez is a handler for the academy's falcons. She is shown here holding Aurora, the official mascot for the academy. Aurora is a female Gyrfalcon native to the Arctic Circle. This rare bird has been at the academy since 1996.

I recently completed a project at the United States Air Force Academy for ESPN. My day brought fond memories of earlier visits to one of the finest institutions in America.

I began visiting the U.S. Air Force Academy when I was a boy. My grandfather Bakke was an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin and on many of his trips to the academy with one of the Badger’s sports teams I would get an opportunity to go down with the family to Colorado Springs to see him and attend the sporting event.

From my first visit I was captivated by the regal appearance of the campus. Nestled in the foothills northwest of the Springs was this unique campus adorned by “mothballed” aircraft and a chapel, the icon of the academy, jetting skyward to the heavens.

In my preteens my mother’s father would gather me up on a cold November day for several years and we would travel down to watch a Falcons game under the direction of Head Coach Ben Martin. Even at blustery cold games the sight of the Air Force players in their stunning white helmets with blue lightning bolts managing the wishbone offense with precision provided plenty of joy and excitement…some of my fondest childhood memories. The highlight of the day was seeing the falcon mascot soaring and diving in pure acrobatic form through the stadium air. It is truly to this day one of the finest pre game ceremonies in college or professional sports.

Once in high school making my college plans, I knew I wanted to attend the academy. For three years I committed to the requisites to become a cadet. In the end even with Congressional support I didn’t make the cut. The academy requested I attend their prep school for a year. As an eighteen year-old I made a bad decision and decided I didn’t want to commit to five years. Yes, I would would love to have that moment back but only for the right reasons.

Later in life as a professional  photographer I had the esteemed pleasure to cover many Air Force football games. None finer was a crisp Colorado fall Saturday when the Falcons beat perennial powerhouse Notre Dame. As time expired cadets poured onto the field to join players and then Head Coach Fisher DeBerry to celebrate the upset and sing the school song.

I will never forget. There stood coach DeBerry with ball cap placed firming over his heart singing with tears rolling down his cheeks. To me that is what is special about the Air Force Academy and it’s players,coaches, faculty and cadets.

Even though I made an immature decision I am still loyal to a school that gave me a chance.

Fight on Aurora, fight on!

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