Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett talks to the East Squad All-Stars before the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in 2012. The game featured the nation's top 100 high school players. (Sgt. Mark Fayloga / Marine Corps)
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Drill instructor Sgt. Philip Krein presents Ryan Switzer with his jersey. (Staff Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook / Marine Corps)
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, a high-profile Marine Corps recruiting event that brings together dozens of high school football players from across the country each year, could fall victim to the military’s ongoing budget cuts.
“It comes down to the resources that are available for us to be able to do that,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Brilakis, the commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command here in Quantico. “We’re going to have to take a look at ... available resources and what we think the long term benefit is.”
Organizers are selecting players to participate in the game scheduled for Jan. 5, but after that all bets are off. It’s to be played at StubHub Center, a 27,000-seat stadium on the campus of California State University, and nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.
The Corps invests $2.5 million in the program.
Launched in 2011, the Semper Fi Bowl features 90 high school athletes composing two teams representing the East and West coasts. Players are selected based on their athletic abilities, personal character, academic performance and leadership.
That makes the program different than other all-American bowl games, said Ryan Switzer, a freshman wide receiver for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Switzer played for the East Coast in the 2013 Semper Fi Bowl.
“For them to take a look into your personal life to see what kind of person you are, it gives you a sense of pride that your hard work and your morals and standards haven’t gone unnoticed,” he told Marine Corps Times.
Before attending the Semper Fi Bowl, Switzer said, he hadn’t competed alongside or against anyone from outside of where he grew up in West Virginia. So the opportunity to play in California with athletes from all over the country was a real confidence booster, he said.
It’s a week-long event. The players are given jerseys, gear and equipment, and their meals and travel are paid for. Over the course of that week, Switzer said, he made some lifelong friends. And having had little exposure to the Marine Corps beforehand, he said he came away from the event with a new perspective on the service and the Marines’ culture.
“I always knew Marines are hard working, but you see these big and strong guys and it seems like they don’t have any feelings because they’re always so intense,” he said. “But I learned a whole lot more about them and gained a whole lot of respect for them when I was out there.”
That’s one of the most important aspects of the program, Brilakis said. The Semper Fi Bowl allows Marines to interact with the players and people who are influential in their lives. That’s a key component of the military’s recruiting strategy.
“You’ve got to earn the trust of their parents and then you’ve got to earn the trust of the people who influence those youths,” Brilakis said. “Whether they be principals, teachers, coaches, pastors or ministers.”
Switzer said it would be a shame to see the Marine Corps forced to dump the bowl game due to budget cuts because it would deprive other kids and those close to them of the opportunity and experience he had. His dad and coach were able to make the trip with him, and they all gained a new appreciation for the Marine Corps, he said.
“I learned during that week that it wasn’t all about me,” Switzer said. “That’s what being a Marine means, and it takes a special type of person.”
Brilakis said that while the Marine Corps may have put Semper Fi Bowl on hold, it doesn’t mean it will be gone for good.
“If there are any particular programs that we cannot afford this year or next year,” he said, “when we end up with those additional marginal dollars [again], we might bring those programs back.”