By Jay Young
There were fishing lines from more than 50 boats submerged in the waters of Chautauqua Lake on Saturday afternoon for the Fishing League Worldwide College Tournament, but some lines stretch longer than others.
From the left, Paul Fardink of Lakewood (Class of ’70), cadet Caleb Primos, Major Pierre Han, cadet Cody Barger and Lt. Col. (retired) Todd Messitt (Class of ’87) show off their rings.
The four cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point who took to the water yesterday are on their way to becoming members of one of the longest and most storied lines in history
In the words of retired Lt. Col. Todd Messitt, "We call all of the graduates of West Point the 'Long Gray Line.'"
A graduate of West Point in 1987, Messitt is the faculty advisor for the cadet competitive fishing program, a post he has held since the club was created.
"I was approached by cadets when they were starting the team about five years ago. Every club has to have an officer in charge, they roped me into it, I've been with it ever since and it's a great time," Messitt said.
Aiding Messitt in organizing and supervising the cadet fishing team is Major Pierre Han, who traveled with the team to Chautauqua Lake for this year's FLW tournament.
Representing West Point were senior cadets Caleb Primos and Cody Barger, junior cadet Chase Miller and sophomore cadet Thomas Matty.
For seniors Primos and Barger - ''firsties" as they are known - this year's tournament on Chautauqua Lake was a little bit special. That is because the firsties were away from school for one of the oldest traditions in West Point history- ring day.
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It was at West Point where the standard tradition of class rings was first adopted, all the way back in 1835. From that year forward, the ring ceremony has become one of the most time-honored rituals of all Military Academy graduates.
"West Point was the first college to have college rings. They started the tradition," Messitt said. "One of the rights of passage at the beginning of their senior year in one of the first couple of weekends is when (the cadets) get their rings.''
There was only one issue with the ceremony for Primos and Barger: If they wanted to try and qualify for the FLW Regional Invitational, they had to be on Chautauqua Lake catching fish the morning after ring day.
"This was our final chance to qualify for the regionals, so we got approval for the seniors to travel this weekend. I didn't want them to miss out," Messitt said.
But that certainly did not mean that the cadets missed out on any of the ceremony. At the same time as thousands of their peers took to the shores of the Hudson, Primos and Barger received their own rings in full dress uniform on the shores of Chautauqua Lake on Friday evening.
"We did it right there by the dock, and the weather was perfect and we wore our uniforms," said Barger. "So we had our own little ceremony. We got our rings the same day, almost the same hour.''
In the end, the firstie cadets didn't miss out on any of the tradition that West Point graduates have come to revere. It was just a little different.
In fact, the pair of seniors may have gotten a little bit of extra attention.
"We actually probably got more attention, just us doing it, than if we had been with 1,000 of our classmates out there all getting it together," said Primos, who had answered more than a few question from his classmates about missing ring day. "And it was nice. It's a great background.''
Thanks to a recent update to the tradition via the Memorial Class Ring Donor Program, Primos and Barger now sport rings that have a little piece of the the "Long Gray Line" in them.
"We call it the ring melt," said Messitt. "Previous graduates, or their families, will donate their rings to the program, and what they do is bring them to the foundry where the gold is forged, and add it to the gold that is being used for this class ring.
"They will save an ingot from this year's melt and add it to next year's melt, so all the rings that have been donated over time become part of every class ring."
In the end, the West Point cadets were unable to qualify for this year's regional tournament, but that is not so important. Getting a chance to take part in one of West Point's oldest traditions was a greater prize than you can find at the end of any line dropped into Chautauqua Lake.
Following are the results of the FLW Tournament:
1st: Ohio State University Sidney Hoover, Findlay Ohio, and Brett Warrick, Westerville, Ohio (five bass, 17-15, $2,000)
2nd: State University of New York-Buffalo Ronald Penders, Rochester, N.Y., and Morgon Fernaays, Buffalo, N.Y. (five bass, 16-6, $1,000)
3rd: Michigan State University Seth Gibson, Union City, Mich., and Ross Parsons, Dewitt, Mich. (five bass, 15-8, $500)
4th: Slippery Rock University Tyler Branca and Tyler Sheppard, both of Hermitage, Pa. (five bass, 15-3, $500)
5th: Youngstown State University Stan Miketa, New Middleton, Ohio, and Charles Cremeans, Youngstown, Ohio (five bass, 14-3, $500)
6th: Kent State University Trevor White, Newton Falls, Ohio, and Greg Perry, Cortland, Ohio (five bass, 13-4)
7th: Michigan State University Kenny Bennett, Sterling Heights, Mich., and Dylan Jones, Warren, Mich. (five bass, 13-3)
8th: Central Michigan University Blake Goodell, Traverse City, Mich., and Brian Bustamante, Dearborn, Mich. (five bass, 13-1)
9th: Shippensburg University Kevin Hollasch, Marriotsville, Md., and Hunter Chamberlin, Shippensburg, Pa. (five bass, 12-9)
10th: University of Akron Robert Webber, Elyria, Ohio, and Sean Connelly, Amsterdam, Ohio (five bass, 12-0)
11th: Xavier University Andrew Decilles, Batesville, Ind., and Alex Vaisvil, St. Charles, Ill. (five bass, 11-13)
12th: Mansfield University Bryan Rupp, Mansfield, Pa., and Colton Otto, Carlisle, Pa. (five bass, 11-9)
13th: State University of New York-Plattsburgh Brendan Bolis, Canton, N.Y., and Richard Lee, Port Kent, N.Y. (five bass, 11-7)
14th: Northern Michigan University Brody Layher, Grass Lake, Mich., and Justin Brown, Bear Lake, Mich. (five bass, 11-6)
15th: Western Michigan University Erik Rogoszewski, Dewitt, Mich., and Shandon Miller, Frankenmuth, Mich. (five bass, 11-5)