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Husband, father, Marine, rugby player. Lieutenant Colonel Kevin M. Shea graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1989 and was a member of the National Championship squad in the same year. Lt Col Shea cross-commissioned in the United States Marine Corps and coached at the United States Naval Academy from 2000 to 2003. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and on his 38th birthday, September 14th, was killed in combat. Kevin was posthumously promoted to Lt Col and his family was presented with his Bronze Star and Purple Heart at the memorial service.
The Lt Col Kevin Shea Memorial Rugby Cup is meant to honor the service and sacrifice of this great man and what he meant to the two military academies. The first match was played in 2011 between Air Force and Navy in Annapolis, Md. The Midshipmen took home the inaugural trophy winning, 24-10. Air Force was the 30-20 victors in 2012 and after a year off due to sequestration, Air Force retained the Cup in 2014 to the score of 38-26. In the most recent encounter last season, Navy blanked the Zoomies, 28-0.
This season, the game comes back to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. On Friday, both teams will lace up their boots and put in their mouthpieces for a match to honor their fallen friend, leader, and role model. This year’s test is the rubber match and to the victor goes the Cup. Navy has the hardware now, but Air Force wants it back.
For Air Force, the team-oriented philosophy with an emphasis on an open style of play has brought two wins to the program in the early 2016 season. Victories against Utah and Utah State have been encouraging and steps in the right direction for head coach Denny Meridith and his staff. The wins have been great preparation for the match against Navy.
When Rugby Today asked Coach Meridith what the strength of his team was, he said emphatically, “Passion. The team captain, Ben Burmester, and pack leader, Grigor Kerdikoshvili, both demonstrate and lead by example. They play with their passion out right in front of them the entire time and it really infuses in the rest of the team, it’s infectious. On the pitch, that passion comes into play literally in every phase of the match.”
Going in the match against Navy, Meridith said, “We know that Navy does a lot of heavy work. The players having been in Annapolis and the Naval Academy are extremely intense. We know that they are going to run hard and fight for the ball. As far as working together as a team, that’s what we are going to have to defeat.”
On the other hand, Navy has gone 1-1 in the early going losing to Notre Dame College (NDC) and beating Dartmouth. “We cut our own throat versus NDC and NDC is a good team,” Navy head coach Mike Flanagan stated. “You can’t do that against those guys. They’ve got a really solid #10 and he made us pay when we made a mistake. We tightened up our defense and we had a better run of play against Dartmouth. We’re still not there and we’re still a work in progress, but we showed some good improvement.”
The key for the Midshipmen is in their forward pack. “Our first 8-10 guys in our forwards are solid players and our team defense is getting to where is needs to be,” Flanagan added. “Our overall team speed is better than last year. I think we have the capability to produce a lot of ball for our backs to use and when they get their hands on it, they are pretty dynamic.”
Coach Flanagan doesn’t know much about the Zoomies’ squad this season, but will have his boys prepared for the match. “It’s one of those things where you got to go to Colorado and got to play at 7,000 feet. We beat them last year and they are looking for revenge. They are going to be ready to play and it’s going to be quite a contest.”
In the end, the match is to memorialize Lt Col Shea and what he meant to both programs. “Kevin was an example not only on the rugby pitch, but as a military officer, leader, and family man,” Meridith said. “He was the epitome of what almost every cadet whether at the Air Force Academy or at the Naval Academy should aspire to. Having that example there is something that we want to honor him with because this man gave it all and gave his life in battle. It’s a common bond between the two teams that should not go unnoticed. There is no doubt there is a shared heritage there.”
Coach Flanagan echoed his counterpart saying, “Kevin Shea was a friend of mine and he coached with me. He mentored our players and he was the role model that you wanted all Marines to be. He was a great Marine, a great husband, a great father, and a great teacher. He was a solid man that if you knew him, you were lucky.”
Both academies have claimed Lt Col Shea as one of their own, but there is only one trophy. Air Force wants to bring the Cup home and keep it there, while Navy enjoys having it in Annapolis and hopes to retain it in 2016. This season’s rendition will be settled on Friday, but both programs are winners to have known the hero and the man that was Lt Col Kevin Shea.