Team of Rivals: ROTC Runs Game Ball

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Despite a heated history between the BYU Cougars and the Utah Utes on the football field, the universities’ ROTC battalions work together to deliver the game ball from Provo to Rice-Eccles Stadium each “Deseret First Duel” game day. The longstanding tradition, reaching back to the seventies, confirms that, notwithstanding the teams’ ardent rivalry, the Army ROTC battalions at both schools fight for the same team.

“It’s a tradition no one wants to mess with,” says Major Ben Ashton, S-3 Operations Officer in the BYU Army ROTC cadre.

The morning of each installment of the Holy War, the away school’s ROTC cadets take off running from their stadium, game ball and American flag in hand. Traditionally, between twenty and twenty-four cadets meet the opposing school’s battalion at a midway point between Provo and Salt Lake City, a daunting 23.7 miles away from the away team’s stadium, and pass off the game ball to the home team ROTC. Cadets run increments of about six miles at a time, alternating holding the ball and flag with fellow ROTC runners. ROTC cadets from the home and away schools ultimately join together to deliver the game ball to the referee at kick-off.

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BYU ROTC cadets “Rep the Y” during the game-ball run in 2013.

Due to no regular-season scheduled games in the past two years, the ritual took a brief hiatus but continues this year as a powerful source of comradery. Ashton says the two battalions communicate often, and “as soon as we saw the football schedule, we called each other and said ‘Let’s bring that tradition back,’” speaking of Saturday’s run.

Cadets ditch the rivalry to organize logistics, run together, and after reaching their destination, watch the game as fellow ROTC cadets. The event “emphasizes ROTC values of teamwork, honor, integrity, leadership, and esprit de corps” explains Lieutenant Pierce W. Bennett, a BYU alum who participated in the game-ball run as a ROTC cadet in years past.

Reflecting back on his own experience running the game ball, Lieutenant Bennett recalls, “I challenged myself to do something that I had never done before . . . I finished strong, and that sense of accomplishment that followed after the run taught me I could do incredible things.”

This year, the run will start at Lavell Edwards Stadium at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, 10 September. BYU ROTC cadets will run via State Street and Timpanogos Highway from Provo to 148000 Pony Express Road, near the Point of the Mountain, where they plan to meet the University of Utah ROTC battalion at about 11 a.m.

According to Bennett, “Whatever the cadets take away from such an event, the run accomplishes its task of building future warrior leaders of the United States Army.”

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BYU and U of U Army ROTC cadets run a combined forty-seven miles to deliver the game ball.