Tens of thousands of people made their way to the Alamodome to watch the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Jan. 9.
"This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m truly blessed to get the chance to be here," said Mark Jackson, West Team defensive end and a Cibolo, Texas, native.
For 16 years, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl has been the nation’s premier high school football game, bringing together the nation’s top high school players, many of whom have gone on to have successful college and professional careers.
The bowl also highlights top high school band members as well. Many of these students have gone on to receive ROTC scholarships.
"The fact that the Army hosts this event is what really sets it apart because it’s not just business," said John Lambourne, West Team defensive line coach.
The All-American Bowl players and Army soldiers share key attributes including adaptability and versatility that enable them to prevail in challenging situations.
"There is a correlation between the Army and football – you’re counting on the man beside you for your own success and ask him to trust you whole-heartedly to accomplish the common goal of winning," said Shannon Sharpe, honorary coach of the East Team and NFL Hall of Fame member who played for the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens.
The players and musicians have earned the opportunity to wear the Army colors by demonstrating their dedication to team, community and excellence.
"When I heard that Feleipe was going to the bowl game I was all for it because this is something that he will be able to reflect on and enjoy the rest of his life," said Master Sgt. Don Franks, an Army Reservist with the 290th Military Police Brigade and father of East Team quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Franks said this event is important because it lets the kids realize the importance of the Army values.
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl provides the Army a platform to engage local communities, which supports the development of America’s future leaders and allows Americans the opportunity to better understand how the Army tackles some of the toughest challenges that face the nation.
The players arrived a week early to practice with their new teammates and engage in local community outreach programs.
"My favorite part of this experience was getting to meet new players, coaches and people and build lasting relationships during the past week," Jackson said.
"I believe it was really great that we had the opportunity to participate in the community engagements throughout the week. I hope it inspired the kids to do more community service on their own and give back a little," Lambourne said.
This year, the West Team managed to hold on to an early lead and win the game 37-9.
The Association of the United State Army is proud sponsor of the Army All-American Bowl.
(Editor’s note: This story is based on an article by Sgt. Aaron Ellerman.)