McKINNEY (June 4, 2014) — High school graduation is upon us. Once the caps are thrown and the celebrations have faded, it won’t take long for seniors to shift their focus in earnest toward the next step in their journey, whether that means college this fall or the pursuit of other career plans. But, for four McKinney ISD graduates, the path that lies ahead is one that is decidedly less traveled.
Graduating seniors Curtis Ladd (McKinney Boyd High School), Erin Hoppe (McKinney High School) and Natasha Blaskovich (McKinney North High School) will be packing their bags and heading to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado this summer where they will enter basic training in advance of their fall academic schedule. Tim Johnson (McKinney Boyd High School) will do likewise on the other side of the country at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Ladd, who was selected as the 2013 First Team 10-5A All-District quarterback while playing for McKinney Boyd this past season, has committed to play football for Air Force, and Hoppe, who was named 2013 District 10-5A Volleyball Co-Setter of the Year while playing for McKinney High School has been recruited for the academy’s volleyball team. Blaskovich plans to study electrical engineering, and Johnson is considering a major in history or one of the life sciences.
Admission to the service academies requires an appointment from a U.S. Senator or a U.S. Representative, and with these in hand, all four of these students have accomplished something truly remarkable.
Each year, thousands of talented high school seniors apply to our nation’s military service academies — the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy — but only a fraction of the most outstanding candidates are accepted. According to their website, West Point maintains a total Corps of Cadets that numbers only 4,000 and the Air Force Academy will admit just over 1,000 new Cadets this year from among more than 12,000 who typically apply.
The education that these four students will receive is among the finest in the country, and once they’ve graduated, each will enter five years of military service as an officer in their respective branches.
We sat down to talk with Ladd, Hoppe, Blaskovich and Johnson about their appointments, how they got here and what lies ahead.
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MISD: First of all, what inspired you to pursue your college education at a military service academy?
Erin Hoppe (MHS): I don’t really like to settle for “average” in anything. So, in the recruiting process for volleyball, I went to check out other campuses, and everything was kind of average. And then, when I got out to the Air Force Academy, I found that it was a step ahead of everyone else. Once I looked into it more, I found there is integrity to it and something to be more proud of than just, “I’m going to go to school, and I’m going to party and blah, blah, blah.” There is more significance to it and a sense of pride that goes with it.
Tim Johnson (MBHS): Well, I just remember thinking throughout this process, probably during my junior year, and I was just thinking, “Where would I want to go? What do you want to do when you grow up? What do you want to be?” Like any high school kid, I didn’t really know [the answer to] that, but I knew one thing was that I wanted to be in charge of it. I wanted to be someone setting the example in whatever I did.
Luckily, my dad also went to West Point, so I knew the opportunity that was there. But, I looked into it on my own — not just trying to ride on somebody’s coattails — and thought about the wide variety of activities that you can do through the Army and when you’re out of the Army, and that it would be exactly what I wanted. I didn’t know what I would do, but I knew that I would have the abilities and experience to succeed at whatever that would be.
Natasha Blaskovich (MNHS): For me, it’s a really similar kind of story. I really like a challenge, and I knew that I wanted to do something that was more than just regular college. I felt like I could push myself harder than that. And, I kind of knew that what I wanted to do in the future would be service-related. Actually, my plan for a long time was to work for the FBI, like “I’m going to track down criminals.” But, after looking into that, I decided that I don’t really want a desk job, so I looked at the Air Force and the variety of things I can do afterwards. I could be out in the field; I could be in more of a diplomat role…there’s so much more I could do and so many opportunities, so I really knew Air Force was the thing. The service academies are just awesome because you actually get a taste of the military before you serve. It was perfect.
Curtis Ladd (MBHS): When Bryan Driskell, our [former] running back, said that he was going to commit to the Air Force Academy, I was in awe because I’ve always had so much respect for the military. Once the season came around [this past year], I started getting interest from Navy and Air Force. And I thought, “This may actually happen.” And then I went on my visit, and I just fell in love with the place. Colorado Springs is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s just spectacular. I fell in love with it. Bryan took me around campus and to some of his classes, and I got a feel for the military lifestyle that they have. It’s a dream come true, honestly. It’s like an Ivy League education coming out of there, and that’s what people want. You get good life skills, you get good leadership skills. You get everything that you need to succeed in life, so I mean, I won’t regret this. Every single person that I’ve talked to has said that freshman year is just miserable, but after that, it just gets better. So, I’ve just got to push through it.
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MISD: Curtis, what will it be like to play alongside one of your teammates from Boyd again?
Curtis: Oh, it’s awesome. [Bryan and I] always talked even in high school, “Oh, we’ve got to play together in college.” It’s been a dream of ours, and it’s coming true. It was a blast playing with him in high school, and I can’t wait to get up there and play alongside him again because he’s a great person and a great football player, too. It’s going to help knowing someone up there as well.
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MISD: Tim, the fact that your father went to West Point must have made your choice pretty easy when looking at the service academies.
Tim: Well, I wouldn’t want to say that per se because my grandfather went to Navy, so my dad obviously went the opposite direction because those schools are rivals. So, that wasn’t necessarily the case that other academies were out of the question just because my dad went to West Point. I’m really into history, and West Point is a very historical place. I’ve been to the campus multiple times, and I enjoyed the look and feel of it. But, also I just felt like West Point had more of a people connection — not to bash the other academies — but I feel like you’re working more with people [at West Point], so that was more appealing to me than what I saw at maybe Navy or Air Force.
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MISD: Erin and Natasha, why the Air Force Academy?
McKinney High School senior Erin Hoppe will attend the Air Force Academy beginning this summer.
Erin: The service academies … kind of like Tim said, it’s a people thing. Being around sports and being the person I am, I like to be involved with teams and be involved with other people. Obviously the service academies offer a top-notch education. Getting to help other people and having that support system behind you [is important] because you know you’re going to get back what you put in. So, everything is a team effort, and personally I really like that. I don’t want to be out on my own. I’d hate to suffer on my own and have no one there to help me out.
Natasha: For me, definitely I looked up on College Board at the rankings, and I want to study engineering, and Air Force ranks higher than the other academies in engineering. So, it was the clear choice, but also I really like the idea of becoming a pilot, and I would have the best chance at Air Force.
MISD: Curtis, were there other universities that were legitimate contenders in your decision?
Curtis: I narrowed it down between Rice and Mississippi State to play football. I had other offers from Holy Cross and ACU and other Division II schools and junior colleges. I had preferred walk-ons at both Rice and Mississippi State. My brother went to Mississippi State, both my parents went to Mississippi State, so that was what I was leaning towards before Air Force came into the picture. Rice is a great education. You couldn’t beat it. I love the coaching staff there, but Air Force popped into the equation, and I just fell in love with it and decided that’s the school I’m going to.
• • •
MISD: Tell me about the admissions process. What does it take to get in?
Tim: I started around the end of spring break last year. You have to fill out, obviously, the information that would be in a normal application like personal information, classes you took, transcript information and stuff like that. We had three candidate statements that were kind of like our essays, but they were a little bit shorter than a full college essay. Then we had to get three letters of recommendation. There was also the [congressional appointment] application process, and those are all different according to wherever you got it from. We also had to do the medical examination, and that one is pretty thorough. They go through everything. Then there was the candidate fitness assessment which requires you to go through certain physical tests. That’s about everything other than crossing your fingers and hoping.
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MISD: Admission to the service academies depends ultimately upon on that congressional appointment. Can you explain that?
Natasha: I got a letter of assurance from the academy. So, what that means is that the Air Force Academy wants me to go there, but you actually have to get a [U.S. Senator or Representative] to nominate you. If they don’t nominate you, you can’t go. So, for a lot of people who might be qualified, if there are a lot of people in their area, they may not be able to go because the congressman can only nominate so many people per year. So, the letter of assurance meant, “We want you to be nominated by a congressman.” And, I was nominated later. So, that’s the crucial, breaking point. It kind of doesn’t matter what happens until that point. If you don’t get the nomination, you’re not going.
• • •
McKinney North High School senior Natasha Blaskovich will attend the Air Force Academy beginning this summer.
MISD: Who did your nominations come from?
All: U.S. Representative Sam Johnson.
• • •
MISD: What was your reaction when you found out that you were in?
Curtis: I was just at my house during the middle of the day, and I got a phone call saying that I had received an appointment. I was just really excited. It was a big stress relief. It was a big relief on me and my family. We were just stressing out because I wouldn’t know what else to do [if I didn’t get the appointment]. Signing day had already past, and if Air Force wasn’t going to happen, I would need to figure out what other school I’d go to. I was with my mom, and I just gave her a big hug.
Tim: I still remember the day. It was after school, and I was still inside the building at Boyd waiting for traffic to clear. I got a call, and I heard Sam Johnson’s voice, “I just wanted to call to congratulate you on being appointed …” and from there it’s just a blur.
• • •
MISD: He called you personally?
Tim: He called me personally, which is [amazing]. I started running around, trying to find my teachers to tell them. It was pretty crazy.
Erin: I was sitting at home doing nothing, and one of the coaches called me and said, “I have some news…” I was just like, “Ok, if it’s bad, I’ll take it. If it’s good, I’ll take it. Whatever.” She was like, “You got in,” and I just burst out crying. I didn’t know how to handle it. I was overwhelmed. It was such a good feeling to work so hard for months and finally get my appointment. It was such a good feeling.
Natasha: I got a letter. I didn’t get a call. (Laughs)
MISD: I guess that’s the traditional way to find out.
Natasha: Yeah, and my mom and dad were there, and we were so excited. And, I for some reason I couldn’t open an envelope anymore. But, I got it open, and we found out I got in, and that was exciting.
Erin: That was a good day.
Natasha: Yeah, it was.
• • •
MISD: Who has been the biggest influence or encouragement to you over your four years of high school?
Erin: Obviously, your parents are going to play a huge role because if you’re going to a service academy, they’ve got to be behind you 100 percent. Because they’ve got to watch you leave, go to basic and watch you serve. And they’re going to be proud of that, too, because that’s their kid supporting the country. Definitely all of my coaches over the past four years have been extremely motivating. Don’t give up on your dream because if you really want something bad enough, you can make it happen, and that’s how I’ve looked at it.
Tim: It’s hard to list because there are a ton of teachers — and obviously my parents. I just think back, like a year-plus ago, when I was telling teachers, “You know, I’m thinking about going to West Point,” and they said, “Yes. That’s you.” It gave me that feeling that’s like, “I can do this,” and that initial push was something really inspiring. But I would definitely have to say Coach Clayton, my wrestling coach, was definitely a big influence because if it weren’t for that physically demanding aspect of it … you grow that determination and the willingness to take on a challenge with enthusiasm. It gave me the push I needed to really want to pursue this.
Natasha: Just like Erin and Tim said, there’s not really just one person that I could thank, but I think that really talking to people who have experience in the military helped a lot. My uncle went to The Citadel, so he told me about how service academies work and the fact that the military has all sorts of things you can do. You don’t really have to be on the front lines shooting at bad guys. It’s not all that the military does. There are relief activities and all sorts of things that they do — it’s not just war. And, I think my teachers just saying, “You’re that kind of student. You can do that. Of anyone that I know, you’re one of those people that could make it.” Having that kind of support was good, and of course having my parents behind me 110 percent the whole time was awesome. I know it’s hard for my mom. I know she’s going to struggle. I know she’s going to cry, but it’s going to be solid.
Curtis: It would have to be both my grandparents and my dad. My dad’s dad served in the Air Force, and my mom’s dad was in the Navy. They are the kind of men that I want to be when I’m older. They just have their lives set out. They’re just great men and everything I want to be when I’m older. And, my dad, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, honestly. He’s just pushed me to be the person I am today. He’s probably the biggest influence in my life.
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MISD: What are you looking forward to the most, and what do you anticipate being some of the biggest challenges at the Air Force Academy and West Point?
Natasha: I know the biggest challenge that I’m thinking about is probably more the physical part, especially boot camp because boot camp is in 29 days — not that I’m counting or anything. But, it’s really pretty nerve-racking because they’re shaping you into a person who is going to be in the military. So, they’re really kind of breaking you down. You’re no longer an individual by the end. And, then they build you back up over the next four years to become that leader that they want you to be. [Your whole life] you’re told, ‘Be an individual. You’re special. Be great.’ And, then it’s actually like, ‘Nope. We’re going to take that all away from you. Without a team, you’re nobody.’ And that’s what they want you to get. I guess the whole idea that I know it’s coming, and I’m not really looking forward to that. That’s really nerve-racking. What I’m looking forward to the most is definitely the opportunity because in the Air Force, I can fly gliders, I can go parachuting, all those kinds of things I’m so excited about that I wouldn’t get to do at A&M or [another school].
Tim: My response would be probably about the same. We start Cadet Basic Training on July 2. I guess what I’m looking forward to is seeing where it takes me and getting to reap the benefits in due time, so it’s a very distant goal of getting to reap the benefits because for the next year or so, it’s just going to be about surviving plebe year.
Erin: I’m actually really looking forward to basic training. Being an athlete, I’ve had a lot of coaches in the past four years that have really taught me to push myself and to not accept anything other than your best or better. So, mentally, I’ve kind of changed the game in my mind where I can do it, and I’m ready for it. I’m kind of excited for people to yell at me. I want to get in tip-top shape, and I want to stand out to them, and I want to do well. And, also the opportunities that it’s going to give you afterward. You can do all this cool stuff that the average person is not going to get to do. I’m kind of an open book at this point. I said that I’ll major in business, but at this point I don’t know what I want to do. So, I’m excited to figure that out as I go. The hard part will definitely be the academics. It’s going to be hard. Being gone every single Thursday through Saturday for the first two or three months for volleyball is going to make it hard to keep up with the school work. That will definitely be my main focus.
Curtis: What I’m looking most forward to would have to be just starting a new chapter in my life. I’ve grown up in North Carolina and then lived here for eight years, and I’m just ready to start something new, something totally different from what I’ve done. I’ve never shot a gun before. I’ve never really been hunting. I’ve never really been camping. And, that’s what I’ll be doing up at Air Force. That’s probably the hardest thing — that I’ll have to get adapted to the lifestyle because, technically, we’re enlisted in the Air Force. So, it’s another lifestyle I’ll have to get used to.
Also, the elevation is a big factor. That’s the biggest problem most cadets have when you walk on campus the first day.
• • •
MISD: That’s probably a big concern as an athlete.
Curtis: Oh, it is. When I went on my visit, I was just walking upstairs, and I was breathing hard. But, I’m not scared. I’m just really excited to get up there and get started with football and get through the training part and just get through my freshman year and getting ready for my life after that.
• • •
MISD: What are your thoughts on the five years of service?
Curtis: Everybody’s like, “Are you sure you want to serve? Are you sure you want to do that?” But, I’ll be set with a guaranteed job right after I graduate. I’m not going to be flying a plane. I can’t do that. So, I’m going to go into the business side of it. I’m going to major in economics or business management. So, I’ll do that side of the Air Force. The serving part? It doesn’t scare me. I just have so much respect for what they do for our country and our freedom, so I just can’t believe that I’ll be doing the same thing for others.
Tim: I think about all the stories. I hear the stories from my dad and his classmates. I was in Boy Scouts, and a lot of the parents there were in the military and all of the stories I heard from them about what comes [while serving]. I just think of all my own stories that I’ll have and all those experiences that I’ll get to live on my own. So, that’s something that’s going to be exciting for me.
Erin: Yeah, like all the cool things you’ll be able to share with all your kids and grandkids.
Natasha: You’re guaranteed a job coming out of college, which is awesome. And, getting a job for sure with pretty decent pay is pretty reassuring. Also, it’s a cool job. It’s not just some desk job somewhere. I guess if you want that, there are probably desk jobs in the military, too. But, you can be out there in the field and working. I find that reassuring, personally. Also, four years of school for five years of service is nothing. Your life has hardly started.
Erin: [Service] may be as physically, or more, grueling than what you’re going to experience at the academies, but you get to do whatever you want in a position where you’re going to have a job right when you get out, and you’re going to get paid a pretty good amount. You can start your own kind of life. Not a lot of people are going to be able to do that. It’s totally worth going to school for four years.
Curtis: When people ask me where I’m going to school, and I say, “The Air Force Academy,” they just take a step back, like, “That’s impressive.” People are already coming up to me saying, “Thank you for what you’re about to do,” so that’s another thing that’s pretty sweet to me. It makes my day.
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About McKinney ISD
One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,750 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, four alternative schools and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at mckinneyisd.net.