CENTER VALLEY, Pennsylvania, June 9. RECENT Naval Academy graduate Ryan Ward (Prospect, Ky.) was named this week as the recipient of the Patriot League Men's Sportsmanship Award for the 2010-11 academic year. A four-year member of the Navy men's swimming team, Ward received the laurel for his role in helping the Mids honor former Virginia All-American Fran Crippen.
Crippen lost his life on October 23, 2010, while competing in an international open water swimming event held in the United Arab Emirates. The first meet for the Cavaliers after his untimely passing at age 26 would be an October 29th meet in Charlottesville, Va., against Navy.
"This was our program's first trip to Virginia as a team and it certainly was one we had been looking forward to for many months," said Navy head coach Bill Roberts. "Virginia is a perennial top-ten program in the country and had a spectacular team in place for the 2010-11 season. As soon as we learned the tragic news of Fran's passing, we realized this meet would be about something much larger than swimming.
"Ryan approached our team captain, Sam Martinette, with the idea that something should be done on our behalf to help honor Fran. They approached me shortly thereafter and it was agreed upon that we wanted to properly recognize Fran and his program, with Virginia's permission of course, during our trip."
Ward first wrote a speech honoring Crippen's life and his efforts in representing the United States as a member of the national swimming team, then delivered it to the Virginia team and the fans in attendance during a break in the meet. The Mids then presented the Cavaliers with a framed condolence note signed by the entire Navy team along with a Naval Academy flag. The next day, Ward travelled to Crippen's funeral in Philadelphia where he presented an identical note and flag to the Crippen family.
"The ceremony was something I will never forget and instantly became one of my proudest moments in collegiate athletics," said Roberts. "Ryan, Sam and Deni Cullom, who competed with Fran in open water competitions, made the presentation to the Virginia program. Ryan spoke on our behalf and did an amazing job. For a young man to do this with such ease and grace really again was a great testimony to the type of person he is."
Virginia head coach Mark Bernardino penned the following about the efforts of Ryan and the Navy program:
"At a time of great personal, team and university loss, we were blessed to compete against the United States Naval Academy in a collegiate swim meet. We were trying to heal and move forward no matter how slowly or tentatively at that time. We wanted our athletes to experience some sort of normalcy and find some sort of equilibrium. We felt competing in Fran Crippen's honor was the best way to learn how to begin living again.
"With great sportsmanship, understanding and sympathy for our loss, the U.S. Naval Academy Swim Team arrived at our school and presented our team, our athletes and the Crippen family with a most fitting and heartfelt tribute. Ryan Ward read a moving statement to our team and the Virginia and Navy fans in attendance. Ryan explained to us that as members of the military great emphasis is placed on the ability to remain stoic in the event of loss of life. But in this instance, the loss of Fran Crippen, many members of his team were reduced to silence and tears. In Ryan's words, the fact that Fran's passing impacted his teammates to such a degree, spoke volumes to Fran Crippen's character and his importance in the world of swimming. Ryan and fellow Navy team captain, Sam Martinette, presented the University of Virginia swim team and the Crippen family with a framed plaque and flag from the Naval Academy grounds in memory of Fran. Most importantly, young men who must put their lives on the line on a daily basis for our country, shared and felt our pain in the most sincere manner. Ryan Ward understood the depth of our pain and the hurt in our hearts. He led his teammates in a moving tribute in honor of a fallen swimmer most of them did not know. Ryan taught his team and our team how a leader acts in times of such great loss and difficulty.
"The following day, Ryan arrived in Philadelphia, Pa., to attend the funeral of Fran Crippen. He shared the emotions and sense of loss with the Crippen family that he and his teammates felt and conducted himself with supreme class, dignity and distinction. I will never forget the actions of Ryan Ward, Sam Martinette and the Navy swim team. They make me proud to be an American and proud to be a coach at the collegiate level. Navy Coach Bill Roberts is both an incredible role model and gentleman, and has led his men in ways that go well beyond the swimming pool.
"The entire administration of the Naval Academy should be very proud of men like Ryan Ward. His many acts of kindness and his incredible sportsmanship, compassion and heartfelt sympathy toward our team and the Crippen family will forever be remembered. Ryan Ward will always have a special place in my heart and the hearts of the Virginia Swimming and Diving Family for his sportsmanship, compassion and kindness."
A video of Coach Bernardino paying tribute to both Crippen and the Navy team can be accessed at the following link:
Ward joins women's basketball player Meredith Addington (2006) as Mids who have received the Patriot League Sportsmanship Award during its six years of existence.
An international relations major at Navy, Ward was named to the Commandant's List three times during his academic career, received an internship to NATO and earned First-Team All-Patriot League honors as a member of the swimming team. He was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy during the USNA's graduation ceremonies at the end of May and will join the explosive ordnance disposal community for his service assignment.
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