Men’s basketball freshman forward Paris Maragkos flew through a series of push-ups, doing his best to meet the demands of the screaming Army serviceman crouching next to him.
It was a drill probably unlike any other Maragkos has experienced, part of the Colonial Invasion’s military challenge, which pitted teams of men’s and women’s basketball players against each other, each competing for the RISC and Team Rubicon charities. And as the players went through the paces of their stations, soldiers stationed in Fort Myer, Va., home to Colonial Invasion this year, came face-to-face with the GW athletes, yelling their encouragement.
In the end, the challenge came down to a breakneck sprint between men’s basketball freshman Kevin Larsen and senior Isaiah Armwood. But though Larsen was crowed the winner by a hair, both charities were awarded a $500 dollar prize, embodying what was billed as the night’s red, white, buff and blue spirit.
“What’s really important to me is that everything we do as an athletic department, we really value and mirror the mission of the University,” athletic director Patrick Nero said. “And the veterans programs, the military programs, are really important to GW.”
It was the first time in the history of Colonial Invasion that the event was held off-campus, giving rise to concerns over attendance that only heightened with the trips of local Major League Baseball clubs to postseason play.
Athletics communications director Brian Sereno said there were seven buses that shuttled students back and forth between Fort Myer and the Smith Center, about a 10-minute drive away. The final attendance was 837, Sereno said, a number lower than in years past, though less noticeable in the smaller Conmy Hall.
The change in location was born partly because parents’ weekend fell on a different date than Colonial Invasion this year, Nero said, adding this would likely be a one-time occurrence. But it was an opportunity for the department to connect to its history and support the military, he said, and that bypassed concerns over attendance.
“I was [concerned about attendance]. In the end, it turned out fine, but I think for us, it’s about everything that we do goes back to who we are and how we want to be perceived,” Nero said. “The military and this building means a lot to us.”
The focus of the night was on the athletic department’s support of the military community, evident from the opening National Anthem, where members of the GW Spirit Program stretched out an oversized American flag while a video honoring the University’s veterans and current soldiers played in the background.
And as each men’s and women’s basketball player was introduced, they were accompanied by children whose parents serve in the armed forces, and soldiers stationed at Fort Myer took part in many of the night’s activities, including the annual dunk contest. The night was bookended by a performance from the U.S. Army base’s drill team, which whirled its bayonets through the air in a breathtaking display.
Men’s basketball senior Dwayne Smith said the night was a chance for the Colonials to show the troops their appreciation for their service, and women’s basketball head coach Jonathan Tsipis agreed, adding that it was a unique opportunity to give back.
“It’s exactly what we’re looking for, to have a fan base that’s interactive, and to support such a good cause,” Tsipis said. “The fun part tonight, I told the team earlier today, is you get to really thank people that provide things that sometimes you take for granted.”
The night still had a decidedly GW tinge, however, exemplified by the special guests that included former men’s basketball standout Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who took time after his introduction to sign autographs on the side of the court for the base’s children.
Bearing the hallmark of years past, too, was the annual dunk contest, which paired men’s and women’s basketball players together in attempts to showcase their skills. It was the part of the night that GW’s coaching staff watched nervously – when men’s basketball freshman forward Patricio Garino jumped over Armwood and women’s basketball senior Megan Nipe during his dunk, Tsipis said his first reaction was to look for his team’s trainer. But it was a crowd favorite, Smith’s tomahawk dunk, assisted by women’s basketball graduate student Sara Mostafa, that won the contest and brought his teammates to their feet.
“Me and Sara practiced our dunks after our basketball practices,” Smith said. “I was feeling good, the crowd was into it, and I was just excited.”
Though the night closed with the emcee announcing that the Washington Nationals were ahead in their playoff game, it was an event focused on the past and future of GW sports as a whole.
Smith said he was relaxed as he thinks about the upcoming season, unable to control the grin widening his face at the thought of getting back on the court.
And Tsipis, who will head the women’s basketball team for the first time this year, said the night’s welcome was the perfect way to segue into an inaugural season with his new team. The Colonials are ready for the year to begin, he added.
“I’ve been really pleased, from day one when I got here, how they’re close-knit and how they’re willing and want to be good,” Tsipis said. “I think there’s a big part of that is they’ve really bought in. They’ve bought in with my pedigree but also with the enthusiasm and passion that I have. That’s really what I want them to take out of it.”