From Darien to Annapolis: Teen to stretch sea legs at Naval Academy

Bray Wilcock was 14 when he saw the Naval Academy’s lightweight crew team tearing down the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, with a focus and concentration that sparked his interest to attend the prestigious military school. Now, four years later and a senior at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., Darien-native Bray is about to join the ranks after receiving his appointment letter late last year.

“Rowing for the academy has been a goal of mine,” Bray told The Darien Times, “but what really drove me to pursue going there was my calling to serve our nation.”

After researching the academy and its grueling application process, Bray decided it was a perfect fit. Now he’s ready for the infamous plebe summer. A “plebe” is the name given to Naval Academy freshmen during their first year. The plebe summer begins on June 28, Induction Day, and intends on familiarizing the freshmen with military life. The name comes from the Roman-era plebeians, who represented the non-ruling class commoners.

But applying to the Naval Academy was no easy task, Bray said, adding that he started the process the winter of his junior year. One of the more daunting challenges was securing a nomination letter from a U.S. congressman. After passing his fitness test and submitting his academic records, he was issued a letter of assurance by the academy, which basically states that he was accepted, pending a congressional nomination.

He interviewed in Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office, and as he was preparing to return to Darien for Thanksgiving break, he got a call from Blumenthal himself.

“He told me I received the nomination and the appointment as well,” Bray recalled. “It was good timing. I got all the official paperwork the following week.”

Keeping himself in shape will be a personal goal, as well as a school mandate, Bray said. As a member of the lightweight crew team, Bray joins a legacy of achievement that is representative of the academy’s high standards.

“I really am very excited,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity… I’m looking forward to getting into the classroom and being at a top institution.”

Bray said he enjoys math and science and might pursue an engineering degree, but he’s keeping his options open. “I get my entire freshman year to decide what I want to major in,” he said. As far as his Naval service goes, his interests lie in aviation or the Navy SEALs program.

He also looks forward to learning about seamanship, and the various tasks and sailing skills that come with the territory.

Bray spent three years at Middlesex Middle School before going to Fairfield Prep, where he began his rowing career. He is also the first of his family to join the Naval Academy, although one of his grandfathers served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific Theater, and his other grandfather was in the Army during the Korean War.

“That was a big determinate to my decision,” Bray said.

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