WCHS senior jumps at chance to attend Naval Academy

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Thomas DePaul, pictured with WCHS president Father Joseph Wallace, proudly displays his acceptance letter into the U.S. Naval Academy Thomas DePaul has never leaped for a rebound for the basketball team nor attempted to clear the high-jump bar for the track and field team at Wildwood Catholic High School.

But one day earlier this month, he displayed vertical skills that would have made the coaches of both teams envious to secure his services.

Inside the school building, DePaul opened a package from the United States Naval Academy that officially informed the Wildwood Catholic senior of his acceptance into the institution’s newest class that sets foot on the famous Annapolis, Md., campus this summer.

“My mom (Peg) was home and I got this frantic phone call from her that this big package marked ‘Department of the Navy, Dean of Admissions’ on it had just come,” DePaul said. “It was a pretty big envelope and it came priority mail and she was frantic about it. She had my (twin) sister (Tiffany) drive it over to me at school.

“I opened it right in the foyer. I got it open a little bit, and I could see this big blue packet kind of thing and that’s when I knew (he was accepted). I jumped so I high I think I almost hit the ceiling.”

DePaul, 18, recently completed a standout swimming career at Wildwood Catholic, where he was a team captain and the program’s top distance swimmer for the past couple of seasons. He’s also a member of the school’s boys tennis team. But in addition to sports, he’s the vice president of the student council, a member of the National Honor Society, part of the school’s academic challenge and forensics teams and serves as an ambassador to prospective Wildwood Catholic students.

DePaul also previously took part in a summer program at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., and has been involved in the American Legion Boys State program.

Oh, and he’s also ranked fifth in his class academically at Wildwood Catholic with a 4.06 grade point average.

“People that know him just assumed he was going to get accepted based on everything he’s done the past four years, especially the last two years,” said Kevin Quinn, Director of Development and Guidance at Wildwood Catholic. “The reality is, this is a very hard thing to get. The Naval Academy takes a very, very, very small percentage of applicants. I think people started to recognize that and now everyone around the school realizes this is a little more special than average acceptance to a great school.

“I think we all know the Naval Academy goes beyond being a great academic place. He’s going to be commissioned as an officer and he’s going to be a potential leader at a very high level at some point. I know he’s very humbled by it.”

DePaul, who had also already been accepted to Seton Hall and the University of Miami, among others, said he first became interested in the Naval Academy as a youngster, when he and his father, Tom, watched the television show JAG, a military-themed legal drama that aired from 1995 through 2005.

“I used to watch that show all the time with my dad,” he said. “I remember sitting at the kitchen table watching it from as young as I can remember.”

DePaul was a team captain and the WCHS swim team's top distance swimmer this season Later, he said his interest was further piqued while swimming for the Wildwood Crest Dolphins club swim team as a fifth- or sixth-grader. One of the team’s assistant coaches at the time, Wildwood Catholic graduate Stephanie Speicher, is the sister of Chris Speicher, a 2001 graduate of Wildwood Catholic who attended the Naval Academy.

“I remember her giving me this little pamphlet about the academy and that put a little seed in my mind and it went from there,” DePaul said.

DePaul’s former teammate on the Wildwood Catholic swim team, 2011 graduate David Von Savage, currently attends the Naval Academy.

DePaul said the process of gaining entry into academy is extremely tedious. There was first a preliminary application last June. Then a weeklong summer seminar for potential cadets. Then the formal application, coupled with the procurement of many letters of recommendation, including an all-important one from New Jersey congressman Frank LoBiondo.

Beginning July 1, DePaul will face four intense years of training and education, followed by at least five years of active military service.

“I know it’s going to be tough but that’s the way it’s designed,” said DePaul, who at this point is leaning toward majoring in political science. “It’s challenging and they throw a lot at you. But it’s really an honor. They’re paying you to go down there and then they offer you a job after you graduate. I know I always wanted to serve. It’s kind of in our family, with my dad being a police officer. To have this opportunity – Congressman LoBiondo thought I deserved it, the other people that wrote me letters of recommendation thought that – it all really means a lot to me.”


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