Naval Academy Ahead For Lethbridge Twins
Published: May 7, 2009
Matt Lethbridge, right, holds a slight lead over his twin brother Jake in the first lap of the 800-meter run during the April 21 Our Lady of Mercy Invitational Track Meet, but Jake eventually won the heat with a time of 2:01.30. Both have been state champions in individual events ranging from 800 to 3200 meters. In cross country they were members of four straight county championships, three straight region championships and three straight state championships. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—Twins Jake and Matt Lethbridge, who have run side by side since middle school, will be entering the U.S. Naval Academy together in the fall.
In addition to their studies and military training, the Lethbridge brothers, who were part of a three-time state championship cross country team at Our Lady of Mercy High School and track standouts, will be running at the academy in Annapolis, Md., where their father graduated in 1980.
Both will run track and Matt will also run cross country.
The twin brothers are remarkable, but in their class, not unique. At Our Lady of Mercy a record number in 2009 have won appointments and accompanying scholarships to service academies.
Sarah Hohenberger, class salutatorian, will enter the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and Rich McPhee, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Two other seniors, Camille Thompson and Nnamdi Moh, will enter the Air Force Academy prep school and Naval Academy prep school, respectively, to hone basketball talents prior to joining the service academies’ next freshman class.
All told, the appointments represent one-ninth of the class of 54 seniors at the Fairburn high school, noted principal Danny Dorsel.
He is pleased with the well-rounded qualities of his students, who, he says, are strong in their faith, participating in a wide variety of activities and academically solid.
“As a collective whole, I see a very grounded group of kids that have multiple talents. I think that is a product of Catholic education,” Dorsel said. “They are able to explore and do so many things at the same time. They play in sports. They do well in school. I am hopeful for the future if these are the future leaders.”
The Lethbridge twins shared in OLM’s three-peat as boys Class A cross country state champions from 2006 through 2008. As individuals, Matt was cross country state champion in 2005 and 2006 and track state champion in 2007 and 2008 in the 3200-meter race, while Jake was first from 2006 through 2008 in the 1600-meter and 800-meter events and part of the 2006 first-place 4x400 relay team.
They have played sports year round at Mercy, including soccer and basketball.
“The two boys have just been awesome,” Dorsel said. “They are involved in four different sports. … Beyond that, they are also academically strong. Beyond that, they are just great guys.”
Jake, who is interested in political science, said the atmosphere on campus and the “competitive nature” of the Naval Academy attracted him. His interest developed later than his brother’s, but now they are pumped that they will be together at the collegiate level.
“Ever since my second year at Mercy I established that I wanted to go to Navy, and nowhere else, whether Jake was going to go or not,” said his brother, Matt. “It took a little more effort and more time for him to make the decision. I certainly wanted my brother to come with me.”
Jake says his strongest academic areas are history and English. Described by his track and cross country coach, Mark Tolcher, as the one who “messes with people all day long,” Jake was amused at a Naval Academy seminar last summer to see people’s reactions when he told them there was an identical Lethbridge there who was just as fast as he was. Matt said he hopes they are not the only twins in the class of approximately 1,200 midshipmen.
Jake, left, and Matt Lethbridge played point guard on Our Lady of Mercy’s basketball team. Jake averaged five points and seven assists a game and he leaves as the fifth all time leading scorer in the history of the program. Matt averaged six points and five assists a game. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
Asked to point out some of their individual qualities, Tolcher described Matt, the captain of all of his teams, as a leader by word and example.
“Matt is filled with toughness, competitiveness, and vocal leadership. He is a natural leader and is not afraid to challenge his teammates when they need to be challenged,” Tolcher said. “His work ethic is unmatched. Never any excuses. He runs hard each day in an effort to improve. He’s extremely focused. Matt excels at distances that are a little longer.”
Jake, he said, has quiet strength and a capacity to perform with great speed and display of talent under pressure.
“Jake is real fast. … Jake would probably be our best athlete in any sport on campus. He’s a fierce competitor and always seems to pull out the great race when it matters most,” the coach said.
Both brothers, who “look more like cornerbacks” than runners, have earned a lot of respect, he said.
“During the course of each season, Matt will ask me if it is OK to meet with the team by themselves,” Tolcher said. “I know it’s time for the Lethbridges to light a fire in their teammates by being direct and frank about what they see. They have earned the right and respect from coaches and teammates. Their teammates respond.”
On the lighter side, he added that Matt conquered a fear of heights at a recent camp by rappelling off a 100-foot cliff and that same day “ate a live beetle the size of a computer mouse.” Jake, he said, is a great dancer and has performed in school drama productions.
“From a coach’s perspective, these guys are as good as it gets, not just with ability, but with work ethic, commitment, leadership, consistency, toughness, character,” Tolcher said. “They show no signs of being satisfied with previous accomplishments, but always push themselves to improve and raise the bar for themselves, their teammates, and everyone else who sees them. I’ve got two young sons, and I love for them to be around Matt and Jake. I hope some of them rubs off on my two boys.”
The 18-year-olds’ older brother, Michael Zachary, known as Zach, will graduate from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh this spring and be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marines. A 2005 graduate of OLM, he went to college on a Naval ROTC scholarship, majoring in accounting and becoming the battalion commander at Carnegie Mellon, the NROTC affiliate of Duquesne.
Mark and Linda Lethbridge, parents of the three, are quick to point out the strengths all their sons drew from their Catholic school communities.
Matt, left, and Jake Lethbridge stretch before their 800-meter heat during the April 21 Our Lady of Mercy Invitational Track Meet. The brothers will attend the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., where Matt will run cross country and track and Jake will run track. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
“Now looking back, (Zach) was very well-prepared for college,” Linda said. “He went from being a good student at Mercy to being a great student at college. He didn’t skip a beat.”
“The good thing about Mercy is the kids all really seem to get along. They blend together really well as a group of people. It is not cliquish or clannish. It is a good environment academically. It is a good environment spiritually,” she added.
Also, she said, the small size of the school lets students try more things, like drama, art, and several sports. She loves the annual multicultural Mass.
Mark, a retired reserve commander in the Navy, said the racial diversity at Mercy is a great asset.
“It is about 50-50 Caucasian, African-American. That has been a strength. That has not been a detriment,” he said. “We took two Nigerian kids with us on spring break. It was because there is no difference with the kids. They were Matt and Jake’s friends.”
They also said the twins’ talent at running came to light almost by accident when they were about 9 and had to run a mile to get a black belt in karate. Their father took them to a track and they both ran under a 7-minute mile.
When Our Lady of Victory School in Tyrone opened in 1999, they entered as third-graders. At the same time some other students there turned out to be outstanding in track and field, students like Christian Taylor and Raven Moore, the parents said. “I think the kids fed off of one another.”
They emphasized enjoying sports, trying everything. They still make it a point to have dinner together as a family every night, even if it is at 10 o’clock after a track meet. In their home, there was set time for studying, no television during the week. “They were in a routine that lent itself to excelling,” Mark said.
Members of St. Gabriel Church in Fayetteville, their sons say their parents have passed on to them the importance of respecting others.
“I think the most important thing about being raised in a Catholic family and environment is learning to respect others and being able to differentiate between right and wrong,” Jake said.
Matt credited his parents, his older brother, Zach, his middle school coach John Turner, and Tolcher, his high school coach, with helping him become a better person as well as a better athlete.
“I was raised to treat others as I would want to be treated. And I will always try to live my life by that,” he said.