First published in the Dec. 16 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
His team didn’t win the football game, but Kurtis Tsai nevertheless enjoyed what he calls “my favorite week of the year.”
A 2020 graduate of San Marino High School and sophomore at the United States Military Academy West Point, Tsai had a full day of assignments this past Saturday for the annual Army-Navy football game, which was played at New York City’s MetLife Stadium (rather than its usual home in Philadelphia) to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.
Navy claimed a 17-13 victory to bring Tsai’s personal record in the iconic game to 1-1. The Black Knights won last year, 15-0, in a game that was played at West Point’s Michie Stadium due to the pandemic.
But it was full speed ahead for the 2021 contest and Tsai was in the middle of the action.
“My day started earlier than most because I was assigned with 400 other cadets to represent West Point on ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ pregame show,” said Tsai. “It was an amazing atmosphere. They had the midshipmen and cadets separated by a pair of fences. As you would probably expect, a lot of trash talk, and trash, was being thrown at each other.”
After the show ended, the cadets and midshipmen formed up to “march on” to the stadium with the Naval Academy marching on first followed by the Corps of Cadets.
“After march on, there are several traditions that occur, including the prisoner exchange, the National Anthem sung by a united Navy and Army choir, and the coin toss,” Tsai said. “After the game was over, both academies sung their respective alma maters. The winning academy always sings last, so the goal every year is to ‘sing second.’”
Though the result wasn’t what Tsai hoped for, the experience again lived up to his high expectations.
“The atmosphere amongst the cadets and within the academy is just heightened during the week of the game,” Tsai explained. “Navy exchange students are pranked throughout the whole week. Pranks range from having all their uniforms stolen to their bed lockers being filled with water. My favorite part of the week is all of the spirit videos that are passed around. Army units from around the globe send in amazing, hilarious videos highlighting the prowess of their unit while poking fun at the Navy. Instructors and professors also join in on the fun. They also submit their own department-themed Army-Navy spirit videos and they are very creative, funny and even, at times, poignant.”
At SMHS, Tsai was a member of the Titan swim team for four years, wrote for Titan Shield school newspaper and served as president of the Habitat for Humanity Club. He is the son of MeyShyan Kuo and Jimmy Tsai and has a younger brother, Russell, who is a junior at SMHS.
He credits his interest in attending West Point to his hometown and one of its most notable residents: Gen. George Patton.
“Whenever I would pass the then-newly built War Memorial, I thought of the extraordinary courage and fortitude that the men and women whose names are displayed on this memorial possessed to lay their lives on the line for our country,” Tsai said. “I thought of the people that they influenced and the lives that they had changed for the better. I also think of the monument in Lacy Park to Gen. Patton and about his experience at West Point. Both of those images clicked with me and I started to think about what West Point has to offer.”
Tsai is a life science major at West Point. As for “life,” he seems to have that figured out just fine.