When it comes to securing appointments to service academies, John Champe High School is defying the odds.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are more than 26,000 public and close to 11,000 private high schools in this country. About 3.6 million high school seniors march to “Pomp and Circumstance” each spring.
Only about 5,000 of those will meet the qualifications and be invited to continue their education at one of America’s five service academies, and only about 2,500 will make the cut and enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
According to Christi Campbell, director of school counseling at Champe, students at that school regularly overcome those 1,400-to-1 odds.
“John Champe has been extremely honored to say we have sent several students on as leaders into our military academy,” Campbell said. “While at Champe, these students stood out from their peers in their character motivation, integrity, leadership and positive attitude.”
According to Campbell, Champe has three students accepted into the Naval Academy and one into West Point from the class of 2016. One student, Matthew Chang, was able to take his pick from the Naval Academy, West Point and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Spring.
In 2017, one student moved on to West Point, and four more students will attend either Annapolis or West Point after receiving their high school diplomas later in the month.
Trevor Cosenke and Isaiah Queen were accepted at the USMA and Taylor Rentz and Kyle Yoon plan to attend USNA.
Candidates must show academic prowess, of course, but a high Grade Point Average and top score on proficiency tests must be backed up with success in extracurricular activities – especially athletics – and proven leadership skills.
Rentz and Yoon are good friends and, once they realized that they have very similar goals, they helped each other and encouraged each other through the long application process.
“I have known Taylor for a long time,” Yoon said. “We went to the same grade school and have been in a lot of the same classes ever since we moved here when I was in fifth grade.”
Rentz, whose parents are David and Anita, set her eyes on the Naval Academy from a young age after getting exposed to the Navy through her paternal grandfather, Jim Rentz. To the family, he was known as Pops.
“He joined the Navy during the Korean War when he was 17,” Dave Rentz said. “He didn’t even finish high school – he just jumped right in. He said those years were the best time of his life.
“He always reminded us he was in the Navy because every morning he would wake us up with their revelry thing.”
Taylor Rentz said the seed planted by Pops took root during a family vacation.
“I knew about Pops being in the Navy but what really did it for me was when we took a family vacation to Annapolis,” she said. “I got to see all the Plebes marching around and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’
“So, I signed up to be part of the Summer Seminar program, where they give a taste of getting up at 5 a.m. and going through classes. I really loved it there”
Rentz said the Naval Academy fit was even stronger as she narrowed down her most important goal for her life – becoming an astronaut. That seed was planted during another family vacation.
“Another thing Taylor had done was we went down to Cape Canaveral and we saw all the rockets,” David Rentz said. “She started looking into that and saw that a lot of the astronauts had been pilots.”
“A lot of them were pilots, and more came from the Naval Academy than any other institution,” Taylor said.
Yoon’s parents are Kibe and Irene, and he also hopes to become a pilot through his training at the Naval Academy.
“When he was just a baby, we were living in a quad-plex down in Texas,” Kibe Yoon said. “It was near an Air Force base and the other three tenants living there were all pilots. I watched them coming and going all the time in their flight suits, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if (Kyle) could do something like that.’”
At his father’s urging, Yoon also signed up for a Summer Seminar at the Naval Academy. He also did a Summer Seminar at West Point.
At one point when Rentz and Yoon were at the same Summer Seminar, their companies came close enough during drills that they could see each other.
“You are supposed to be looking straight ahead at all times,” Rentz said. “I was trying not to look, but we just made eye contact for a second. I started smiling and (her superiors) swarmed all over me.”
With the help of their guidance counselors – at Champe and Yoon also attends the Academy of Science – the two began the arduous application process during their junior years. With their Summer Seminar experience backing up strong academic, extracurricular and leadership qualifications, they both received a Letter of Acceptance prior to their senior year.
All that remained was securing a nomination from the president, vice president, senator or representative. They both admit spending considerable time hitting “refresh” on the website where the nominations are announced.
“It was like 2 a.m., and I just randomly checked the site, and there was my name,” Rentz said. “I was so excited that I ran and woke up my mother.”
Yoon’s agonizing wait was prolonged by yet another family vacation.
“I was on a Disney Cruise, and I didn’t have access to the internet or anything,” he said. “As soon as I got home, I checked and found out I made it.”
The two share very similar goals for their time at Annapolis and beyond.
“I want to study aerospace engineering,” Rentz said. “After that, I want to be a pilot. I don’t care if it’s planes or helicopters – whatever they give me I will take. Then, I want to apply to NASA and see if I can make it.”
“I also want to be a Navy pilot,” Yoon said. “I have always been interested in flying. I volunteer at the Air and Space Museum and I started the Aviation Club at school.”