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Some Tri-State athletes playing for ultimate home team

July 02, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

TRI-STATE -- Athletes tend to be a loyal bunch.

The good ones believe in teamwork, working hard, learning their trade and doing everything in their power to be successful. The goal is to win for the home team.

Many learn to win, lose and how to play the game on the high school level. Lessons learned and coaches met along the way can deeply affect them. A lucky few use what they learn to remain in sports on the college and professional levels. Others apply those lessons to their lives and careers as they become adults.

And then there are the athletes who use the challenge, teamwork and disciplines they learned in sports to take their desire for challenge and purpose to a new level.

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It takes them from the playing field to the battlefield.

For many of those, there is a desire to win for the ultimate home team - their country.

'This is what I do'

"I'm proud to be a student-athlete in a community that has the sacrifice and dedication of all the coaches who gave me the confidence to be in the Marine Corps," said Mike Bowers, a 1991 North Hagerstown High School graduate and athlete, who is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"My years in the Marines have given me an entirely different perspective in life. This is what I do, but it is what this country deserves."

On the eve of the 232nd Independence Day observance, athletes who have become soldiers are for some a symbol of what this holiday, considered to be America's birthday, has become. It is a summer festival with a patriotic backdrop.

In this package of stories, we celebrate our athletes and our military, and especially those athletes who have become warriors. The men featured here and in today's Sports section represent a small cross-section of people in this area and in this country who have blended those disciplines.

These athletes have enlisted in the military and gone to war in Iraq and surrounding areas, to Korea and to other hot spots where the country has called them.

Each credits his time playing sports for being prepared to become a member of the military, both physically and mentally. Some use the knowledge of organized competition to make decisions to stay alive. Some use sports to help them cope and get through the tedious times of their deployment. Some return home with hopes of becoming athletes again in some form.

There is Bowers, who credits what he learned from coaches while playing sports in Washington County with giving him the foundation to become a Marine and to make the military his career.

"Coaches taught us to go in and follow through," he said. "Athletes love the competition and the camaraderie. In the Marines, it is team and the challenge."

There is James Domenico, a 1991 Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School graduate who just completed Air Force officer training and assists his wife, Beth, in coaching the nationally recognized Hagerstown Community College volleyball team.

And Jonathan Breehl, a 2005 North Hagerstown graduate who was injured by a bomb blast while serving in Iraq with the Marines. He has used the personal drive he got from participating in sports to help him overcome his injuries with the hope of wrestling again.

"Sports help you respect yourself," he said. "And when you respect yourself, you always do better."

And Kevin Spradlin, who attended South Hagerstown and Smithsburg high schools and used his passion for running to help him through two stints in the Army.

And Nathan Steelman, a 2004 Smithsburg graduate who returned from a 15-month deployment in Baghdad and walked on to become a left-handed relief pitcher for the University of Maryland baseball team.

"When I was younger, there were kids who were a lot more talented," Steelman said. "I had to be better and I had to work hard. It was the same in the military. Nothing is given to you. You got to take it."

Their reasons and drives vary, but there is a common bond. They all appreciate what they have learned through sports and where that has led them. They also profess a deep love for this country, its independence and the way of life that allows.

"I want to try to go to fire school, stay around wrestling and be a normal citizen in this great country I fought for," Breehl said.

Athletes - and soldiers - are a loyal bunch.

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