When she takes the 90 seconds to say goodbye, to hug Mom and Dad tightly in the minuscule amount of time West Point allows new cadets to bid their families farewell and enter a life changed forever, Ally Snelling’s dream of embracing those Norman-style buildings constructed from gray and black granite and all they represent will have finally arrived.
She will travel through Reception Day in early July, one of the most memorable and intimidating times for those entering the U.S. Military Academy, having arrived to Eisenhower Hall at the break of dawn a civilian and hours later marching in full uniform through the gates on the Plain following an Oath Ceremony to begin six weeks of basic training, fueled by a desire to lead and protect.
You have 90 seconds to say goodbye.
Why she pursued the intense journey to being accepted into the incredibly rigorous and competitive world at Army — a senior infielder on Palo Verde High’s softball team, one of Nevada’s best hitters, talented enough that Division I college scholarships were there for the taking — is a story born from a sense of love and devotion to country rarely found in someone so young.
In most anyone, really.
Full disclosure: She is 17 and I have known her since she was 8. Coached her for some time. Never met a better kid, never came across a better leader of peers, who have followed her seamlessly, effortlessly.
“I’ve always loved America,” Snelling said. “I’ve always wanted to serve. I can’t even tell you the exact reason why. It was just always in me. I grew up watching the news with my dad, aware of what was going on in the world. You see all the bad, and want to put a little good back in it. Army gives me the perfect path for that.
“I have a lot of faith in America. The world is a scary place right now. Hopefully, I can do my part in protecting my friends, my family, my country. If not me, who? That has always been my mentality.”
She does not come from a military background, her parents (Greg and Jennifer) born and raised in Montana, their daughter one who likes to say she has small-town roots and a big city (Las Vegas) birth certificate, born Sept. 11, 1999, two years before the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
“Everyone remembers my birthday because you share it with tragedy,” Snelling said. “It’s hard to celebrate because 3,000 people lost their lives. I’ve seen all the 9/11 movies. They make you sad, they make you cry. They have made me want to do more for everybody.”
She knew West Point was the place when, after attending a softball camp, she stood at one of those breathtaking spots that overlooks the Hudson, one of those spectacular views when the sun hits the body of water of which George Washington had a 1,800-foot chain strung across during the Revolutionary War to prevent the British from advancing farther north.
She was one of 100 selected to the Girls State leadership conference at Lake Tahoe and then just one of two chosen from Nevada to attend Girls Nation in Washington, D.C., her congressional nominations to West Point coming from Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Joe Heck.
She will arrive at Army with the intent of playing softball, and yet not in any way place it at the front of her goals for a successful college career, hitting .600 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 46 RBIs this season, having received offers from the likes of Iona and Georgetown and Southern Utah.
If it works that the game can be part of a plan to major in international relations and perhaps one day work in government intelligence or fly Army aircraft when she begins eight years of mandatory service following graduation, it will. If it doesn’t and this is where softball ends, so be it.
“She’s a huge history buff, and learning about her country just triggered something in her,” said her mother, Jennifer. “I’m scared to death for her. I’m very nervous. But I also think she’s going to be hugely successful. She’s a great kid who has always wanted this.”
Bill Foley is another with deep Montana roots who attended West Point, owner of the NHL expansion Vegas Golden Knights who talks often about the commitment and drive and determination of those produced by Army.
He doesn’t know Snelling, but when told of her acceptance, hopes to meet her one day.
“I think it’s amazing,” Foley said. “The quality of men and women now attending West Point — they’re bigger, smarter, more athletic, more composed than we ever were. She is an example of the incredibly high quality of applicants and cadets now attending the school. This kind of news about a young woman (from Las Vegas) makes me very proud.”
She looks forward to walking the halls that once housed some of our greatest military minds, of Grant and Thayer and MacArthur. She closes her eyes and sees a picture of another, Dwight D. Eisenhower, standing in front of cadets with the quote, “History is Watching You,” and dreams of existing within the structure of such uniformity, of being a member of the Long Gray Line at that majestic place in upstate New York, where Thomas Jefferson in 1801 directed plans be set in motion to establish West Point.
“I know those halls will push me to give a little bit more, to be a little bit better,” Snelling said. “It’s ironic, such a peaceful place teaching you some unpeaceful things. I’m excited because I trust myself and I’ll trust those around me. A teammate is the greatest thing I will ever be.
“I think I have gotten everything I can out of softball, but all the lessons it taught me about respecting authority and competition and overcoming adversity can now be shared with others in different types of situations at West Point.
“Softball is a game and I love it, but it was never going to get in the way of me pursuing this dream. I love my country more.”
If not her, then who, is right.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 98.9 FM and 1340 AM from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.