WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the pre-dawn hours Wednesday the Gallaudet University baseball team completed the final day of its three-day Navy SEAL training in the shadow of the nation's capital in near freezing temperatures with a slight drizzle.
Along the banks of the Potomac River and within a stone's throw of Regan National Airport the Bison student-athletes, managers and coaches went through a various assortment of SEAL drills that required the utmost focus, communication and teamwork to complete. John McGuire, CEO and Founder of SEAL Team Physical Training, Inc., along with his team of instructors handed out orders and words of encouragement during the two-hour training held from 6-8 a.m. McGuire, 44, a former Navy SEAL with 10 years of service, has been operating SEAL Team PT for the past 15 years and has trained various collegiate and professional athletic teams along with corporate training, classes for the young and old alike. In 2011, the SEAL Team PT trained the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team coming off their Final Four run the season before.
One thing McGuire and his staff had never done before was train a deaf and hard of hearing team.
"This was the first time I have trained a team that was deaf and hard of hearing and I was very impressed. They were focused when I was talking, they were looking left and right to keep an eye on each other," said McGuire. "There is nothing like teamwork to bring out the best in people. I think we can do more if we work together."
Gallaudet finished last season with a program record 25 wins and advanced to the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championship game. The Bison have been knocking on the door in their quest to win a conference championship but haven't gotten over the hump…yet.
"This will help us try and win a conference championship because this really brought us together as a team. This has taught us to always hustle, sacrifice and never quit," said GU senior Tommy Barksdale (Brookeville, Md.).
Head coach Curtis Pride, the only deaf player in the modern era of Major League Baseball, brought in McGuire and his staff to train his team so he could learn more about each player and help the team form a tight bond. Pride, who spent 23 seasons in professional baseball and 11 in the majors, says this was the toughest team training he has been through.
"It is more than I expected. I did a lot of research before committing to this but I thought it would be a good way for us to gel, improve our mental toughness and our communication as a team," said Pride, who will enter his fifth season at the helm with the Bison this spring.
"In the past three days, I have seen some big changes among the team, like how they communicate to one another. They are paying attention to little details now because they understand the team comes first."
The training began early Monday morning on Gallaudet's campus under the lights at Hotchkiss Field as the team performed different calisthenic exercises like push-ups, crunches, bear crawls, crab walking, sandbag lifts, three-men carries, boat carrying and sprints in just under two hours. The Bison repeated the regiment on Tuesday and added some new drills like log carries and rolls, sled pulling, memory game to go with the other Monday drills. The training session wrapped up at Gravelly Point Park in Virginia on Wednesday when the team plunged into the Potomac River to take part in three different boat races. The Bison also added tug-of-war to the regiment.
"I never expected anything like this. This was an amazing experience for the whole team," said Barksdale, a three-year letterwinner for the Bison. "Everyday got harder, harder and harder. We kept on battling as a team. It was important for us to not give up and just battle through the drills."
"We were all surprised on the first day [of training]. Coach Pride talked during fall practice that he had a big surprise for us. We were all shocked when we learned we were going to train with the SEAL Team," said sophomore JJ Klein (Cincinnati, Ohio). "I am happy Coach did this for us, it was a great thing for this team. I also want to thank the SEAL Team for bringing us together."
The players gutted out an exhausting workout on Wednesday as the temperatures hovered around freezing, their clothes drenched from the damp ground they performed exercises on and shoes soaked from the Potomac River they paddled through. Even though the players were cold and tired they continued to cheer each other on during each drill and were smiling ear-to-ear when they received their official SEAL Team Physical Training t-shirt to commemorate their experience.
McGuire, who resides in Richmond, Va., hopes to attend a Bison game this season and has high hopes for Gallaudet's program.
"What I would like to see is for them to embrace the motto 'Team First.' I would like for them to continue to respect each other. If a team ever has an individual who believes he is better than the rest of them that can be contagious and that can bring down a team. It takes everyone to win and one person to mess it up," said McGuire. "This team had a lot of heart and fight. They fought very hard for the victories at a high level. My instructors were inspired training Gallaudet's baseball team."
It hasn't taken long for the Bison players to change their attitudes during the first week of practice and Coach Pride has seen some players transform themselves into team players.
"I felt if we could go through this type of training then we could take our team to the next level as far as being mentally tough because we will face some stiff competition this season. We want to show up at the field expecting to win even though the other team may be more talented. We can't be afraid. We need to know that we have what it takes to win."
Hopefully if Gallaudet reaches its team goal of claiming a NEAC championship this May they can look back fondly on a three-day stretch in January where individuals became a team and Bison became SEALs.
Photos, video courtesy of Sam Atkinson, Gallaudet SID
- Watch videos, view pictures of Gallaudet's baseball team doing some of the SEAL drills on our Facebook page
- SEAL Team Physical Training website
Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world. For more information about Gallaudet University please log onto www.gallaudet.edu.