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Whitefish’s Ross fulfills dream with West Point appointment

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | April 3, 2021 8:39 PM

Camren Ross was on a long bus ride to Miles City in early March when his cell phone rang.

To his surprise it was Montana senator Jon Tester, telling the Whitefish senior he’d realized a dream: He had a spot at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

“He said, ‘I want to congratulate you on your appointment,’” Ross said. “I was like, ‘Wow. I can‘t believe this is happening.’”

As goals go getting into a service academy is a pretty lofty one. Then again Ross is a 4.0 student, an All-State football player and wrestling team captain. And compared to his first ambition? Way easier.

“When he was really young he wanted to be a dragon,” said his dad, longtime Whitefish football coach Chad Ross. “We said, ‘Well, OK, we’ll work on that.’”

Let’s back up: Camren is the youngest of three overachieving children, and he said it was in grade school that he first was drawn toward military service. It wasn’t any one thing, though his grandfather — the late Jerry Ross played football for the MSU Bobcats — had done three tours in Vietnam.

“It honestly started a long time ago,” he said. “I went to a church camp and it was at that time I decided I wanted to go into the military. Then Travis Cattina, by brother’s friend, got into West Point. I wanted to learn more about it and decided it was a great opportunity.”

The brother, Chaffin, plays football for Colorado School of Mines and has earned his degree in chemical engineering. Sister Cailyn has played volleyball at Kean University in New Jersey, though that ended with the pandemic. It’s a bit of a rivalry.

“Whether it’s perceived or real, the pressure of having those siblings is there,” Chad Ross noted. “Two All-State athletes who went on to do something else. And they’re, ‘When are you going to get a B? We never got a B…’ This was a chance for him to do his own thing.”

“There was a period when my brother had gone to Colorado School of Mines,” said Camren, who never got that B. “I thought, ‘Oh, I could get an engineering degree there.’ So now I’m just going to West Point and become an engineer there.”

The process was grueling.

“It can start at the end of your junior year,” Ross said. “I applied for a summer seminar. Then you have to start on your nomination interviews. You usually go speak with them in person, but it’s a crazy year and had to do it on Zoom (all three Montana congressmen nominated him).

“Then you start applying to your service academy. A lot of essays. A medical evaluation, an eye exam. That was fun. Then I just kind of sat around and twiddled my thumbs and prayed.”

This isn’t exactly true. Ross was All-State at both offensive tackle and defensive end for the football Bulldogs last fall, and went 26-8 on the mat during wrestling season. He also had to take his SATs, which was a challenge because they kept getting canceled.

“Took him four tries,” Chad Ross said. “We were going to Browning and that didn’t work out. We finally took them in Noxon. It was after the Columbia Falls game. We had just won, and we loaded up the camper and drove over so he could sleep. We pull in at 1; he takes it at 7.”

Wrestling season didn’t end the way Camren wanted, with a 1-2 record at the State A meet in Miles City. Tester helped salvage the weekend. “It ended on a good note,” Ross said.

A player on the local Blue and Blacks, he has the idea of joining the rugby club at Army; he’s also into SCUBA, and West Point has a club for that, too.

There’s a bright future and a lot of work ahead. The youngest Ross also had an offer to play football at Colorado Mines, and MSU or Hawaii were other options. A safety net was there, but it wasn’t needed.

“My mom was the only one that said, ‘You’re going to get in for sure,’” Chad Ross said. “I didn’t know what to think.

“The Shrine Game used to be in July, but then they moved it up to June and I thought, ‘Oh, Camren doesn’t get to do this.’ But Camren gets to do a lot of things I didn’t find imaginable.”

Sports reporter Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.