ALLPORT — Sports have been a big part of Derek Yingling’s life.
Yingling has been a three-sport athlete much of his high school career, playing football, wrestling and participating in track and field at West Branch.
He is the school’s all-time leading rusher in football and is a two-time District 6 champ and three-time PIAA medalist in wrestling.
And, it was his success in sports that gave him an opportunity he could only dream of — going to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
“I was recruited for wrestling and probably wouldn’t be able to get into the school if I hadn’t been recruited,” Yingling said. “It is very competitive. Even though I did very well on my SAT’s, I would have had to take them again and hope to get about 50-100 points higher.”
Yingling will spend a year at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School on the grounds of West Point before moving on to the United States Military Academy after receiving his congressional appointment next year.
USMAPS cadets spend 10 months receiving special instruction in academic areas to prepare them for their West Point education and eventual commission in the U.S. Army.
The prep school has its own wrestling team and participates in a schedule with other prep schools, such as the Navy Preparatory Academy.
Yingling also visited several colleges who were interested him on the football field as well. But when it came down to it, he had a real passion for the military.
“I’ve always thought about joining the military, so when this opportunity presented itself I figured it was the best way to go,” he said. “Also, the free tuition for college was helpful. Plus, it is surrounded by woods.”
The Yinglings made the trek to West Point during the wrestling season. They were shown around by assistant wrestling coach Joe DeAngelo.
The tour included 16,000 acres of wooded land, the visitors center and several campus landmarks. They were also shown the wrestling facilities.
It was during that visit that Yingling had made up his mind on his path.
“I didn’t want to come home,” he said.
Once he made his decision, the real work began, according to his stepmom, Tara.
“It’s been a lot of work,” said the West Branch elementary school teacher.
Yingling had to write three essays, have his teachers fill out a survey and record himself doing several physical activities like pull-ups, push-ups and running a mile.
Tara Yingling says the family had to also fill out several forms and get things sent to the academy. That included life insurance policies, banking information, immunization records, a police records check and dental records. He also had to be fingerprinted and have those digitally sent.
“My stepmom did a lot of the paperwork, which was a lot,” Yingling said. “All of my teachers that were involved were really helpful and supportive as well.”
And while Yingling doesn’t have any immediate family in the military, he does have two relatives on his mom’s side that have served.
He has gotten a lot of the information about what the academy is like from some of the current wrestlers at West Point.
And while West Point can be an overwhelming challenge to even the most prepared, Yingling says he is excited for the opportunity.
“I am very lucky to have the privilege to be around all the other people who managed to get into the school,” he said. “I am looking forward to being taught by the superb leaders of our country and be surrounded by greatness.”
Yingling already has a leg up on the physical fitness portion of the academy life, as well as time management.
His family has owned a farm since before he was born and he spends many days doing chores on the farm. He has managed to balance that along with practices and schoolwork for most of his life.
He knows the schedule at West Point will be just as busy with even less downtime.
Yingling says his friends and family have been very supportive of his choice.
“They tell me that I’m really lucky to have this opportunity,” he said.
And while many of his friends are taking the summer off before heading to college in the fall, Yingling is to report to West Point on July 15 at 7:10 a.m.
It will be the start of a journey that will end with a five-year commitment in the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer.
Yingling has until his junior year to decide what he will major in. But, it’s clear whatever he ends up doing, he will enjoy all of the challenges that come along with it.