Pledge of Service: Two Harpeth Hall athletes sign to continue sports careers at military academies
One of the most important phone calls of Anna Lindsley’s academic and athletic careers came on a Christmas Eve road trip while her family drove home from Alabama.
“Hello,” Anna said as she answered her ringing cell phone from the back of the car. “Yes, sir,” Anna’s father heard her reply as she spoke formally to the person on the other end of the call.
“I knew then it was either a military officer or a congressman,” her dad recalled.
Anna listened intently, replied politely, and excitedly shared the news with her parents when she got off the phone. The call was from U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, personally congratulating Anna on receiving a congressional nomination and his support for her appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
The nomination marked one of the final steps in Anna’s military service academy application, and this month, her commitment to the U.S. Air Force became official as she signed a Letter of Intent to compete in track and field for the Falcons. Alongside Anna, Harpeth Hall classmate Isabella Baldwin also committed to pursuing her sport at the NCAA Division I collegiate level. Isabella, a three-time state rifle champion and Junior Olympic competitor, will take her world-class riflery skills to the U.S. Naval Academy.
“It is an honor,” Isabella said. “Historically, service opportunities in the military were limited for women, and the military remains a male-dominated field. However, the number of women at the U.S. Naval Academy has been steadily increasing since the first class of female midshipmen graduated in 1980. Now, nearly one-third are women, and I’m excited to be a part of the next wave who will build on that momentum.”
Families inspire future pursuits
Both Anna and Isabella will carry on the military tradition of their families.
Isabella was in first grade when her dad deployed in the Army for Operation Enduring Freedom. “Growing up around his military culture sparked an early aspiration to serve,” said Isabella, who was 5 years old when she first decided she wanted to attend the Naval Academy.
Anna’s father, grandfather, and uncle were all members of the Air Force. Her uncle also attended the Air Force Academy and graduated as the Class of 1977. “As I look towards my future, I have set the goal of being a strong, independent, honest, and kind leader,” she said, adding that her family members who served in the Air Force “embody every one of these characteristics.”
The two young women will join a select group of recent Harpeth Hall graduates enrolled in one of the nation’s five U.S. military academies. Among them are three Harpeth Hall alumnae at the U.S. Naval Academy — lacrosse player Leelee Denton ’20, engineer Reese Graves ’20, and pentathlete Annie Taylor ‘20. In addition, earlier this school year, Harpeth Hall senior Caroline Ford was awarded a prestigious NROTC Scholarship from the United States Marine Corps. This scholarship allows her to complete ROTC training at college and prepares her to join an officer training program in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity,” Anna said, “and hope to show other girls at Harpeth Hall and elsewhere that a woman can do anything a man can.”
Opportunity for sports and service
At Harpeth Hall, Anna learned she could turn her aspirations into achievements. Still, because she didn’t join the track team until her sophomore year, she was nervous about how her lack of experience would affect her season. Her teammates and coaches gave her the confidence she needed.
“Harpeth Hall encourages being comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” Anna said. “In terms of athletics, the environment this school has created allows girls to try new things.”
Anna excelled in both track and field events. In the triple jump, she holds a personal record of 35 feet, 7 inches — making her the third-best all-time at Harpeth Hall. In the long jump, her lifetime best of 17 feet, 5 inches puts her seventh in the Harpeth Hall record books. Anna also competes in sprints and relay events.
Athletic signings for those going into military academies often come later in a senior’s school year because of the multi-layer admission process for academy hopefuls. The core application is similar to colleges across the country. In addition, military academy applicants must pass a fitness test, a medical history review by the Department of Defense and, following multiple interviews, receive a nomination from a member of the U.S. Senate, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, or the vice president or the president of the United States. Only after a student is accepted into a military academy does she sign a commitment to compete collegiately for the academy.
For Anna, continuing her athletic career in college means furthering her love for the sport and continuing to grow as a person.
“I cannot wait to serve my country,” said Anna, who plans to major in aeronautical engineering, “and be a part of a cause bigger than myself.”
Breaking a glass ceiling
Isabella feels the same. Though she has long pursued the idea of joining the Naval Academy for the chance to lead and serve, she didn’t initially connect that ambition to the opportunity to continue her sport. She joined the Harpeth Hall competition rifle team in her freshman year “thinking that riflery would be at most a short-term break from other sports,” she said. It became much more.
The sport’s scientific and technical mindset engaged her right away. She found it mentally challenging, embracing the immediate, quantitative feedback from every shot and using it to adjust and improve without riding the highs and lows of good shots and missed marks.
“While it is tempting to quantify success based on scores, I’ve learned from my coaches that it’s important to focus more on process and less on the outcome of a particular shot or match,” she said. “To model this mindset, they focus less on congratulating or consoling me and more on challenging me to identify what I learned. This approach to growth has taught me to view challenges differently – both in riflery and life. Some matches you win, and some matches teach you how to win.”
That mindset has served her well. Throughout her career, Isabella has faced some of the best rifle competitors in the country. She is a three-time Tennessee high school state champion, becoming the first female to achieve this and setting a new state record every year. She placed third at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s national competition and was a finalist in the USA Shooting Nationals. Last year, she also won the ASSA National Championship, setting a new ASSA civilian record in 3x40 50m Smallbore. Even with all that, the most excellent highlight of her competitive rifle career so far has been signing with the Naval Academy.
“This has been one of my first experiences breaking a ceiling,” said Isabella, who is the first from the Harpeth Hall riflery team to pursue the sport at the collegiate level. “I hope that carving this path will open more doors for future Harpeth Hall graduates to pursue the sport past high school. I have seen our Harpeth Hall team grow so much in the last few years, and I am proud to have played a small part in continuing to expand the program.”