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Home / Academy News / Moving forward from the past - Impacting the future

Moving forward from the past – Impacting the future

USCGA External Affairs | December 13, 2022
Rear Adm. Bill Kelly and Mr. Harrison Brooks Fitch | U.S. Coast Guard Photo by PA2 Matt AbbanNEW LONDON, Conn. — Nearly 90 years after a racist incident, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the keepers of the legacy of an African-American trailblazer are partnering together to learn from the past and uplift the leaders of the future.

In 1934, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy was scheduled to host a basketball game against Connecticut State College (precursor of the University of Connecticut). One of the UConn players, Harrison Brooks Fitch, was the first African-American student-athlete at the university.

Before the game, the University of Connecticut team who had travelled to New London was informed by Coast Guard Academy staff that the Coast Guard players would not compete against a black athlete.

The game was delayed while coaches and officials determined whether Fitch, who earned the nickname “Honey” because of his smooth playing style, would be able to play. In the end, Fitch, who was a standout athlete in baseball, football, and basketball, was not allowed to play. Newspaper accounts of the game which UConn won reported, “It was a hard, rough contest in which fouls were plentiful and feelings ran high.”

The ugly incident, an example of the kind of racist behavior that unfortunately was a common part of life during that era in the United States, might have been forgotten by most people if not for a prominent article published in 2021 in the Hartford Courant.

After reading the article, Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, current Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, was determined to learn from the regrettable event and committed to act on his mantra of moving forward together.

“The Hartford Courant article was a low point for the Coast Guard Academy,” said Kelly. “The incident in 1934 is not indicative of the inclusive institution we have worked so hard to become. We are at an inflection point, where we can sit back and hope the story fades away or we can engage and reach out to ensure we learn and grow as an institution committed to the development of leaders of the highest character.”

When Harrison “Honey” Fitch was inducted into the Huskies of Honor program at UConn, Kelly sent a letter to his son, Harrison Brooks Fitch Jr., not only congratulating his family on the honor, but also apologizing for the incident in 1934 and inviting him to visit the Academy in hopes to “move forward together.”

After much deliberation and careful consideration, Fitch accepted Kelly’s offer and visited the Academy where he met with faculty, staff, cadets, and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Fitch’s son, who is also a UConn alumni, started the Harrison Fitch Leadership Fund to honor the legacy of his father and make a future impact in developing young leaders by learning about his character and story. The fund focuses on leadership and creates opportunities for underrepresented students to engage, learn, and make a difference at the university and beyond.

Through this visit, it was determined there were several areas where the Academy and the Harrison Fitch Leadership Fund could collaborate to enhance each organization’s leadership programs and impact the futures of students within the region.

After the visit Fitch noted, “History happened. We will decide what happens next together. The Harrison Fitch Leadership Fund collaborative initiative with the U.S. Coast Guard Academy will impact students, benefit our economy, and provide tangible examples of selfless leadership with character.”

The collaborative partnership with the Harrison Fitch Leadership Fund will be initiated with the assistance of three different divisions at the Academy, the Loy Institute for Leadership, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and the Athletics program.

Joint opportunities being coordinated include developing a new leadership curriculum regarding the USCGA/Harrison “Honey” Fitch story, a keynote speaking engagement between Fitch and Kelly at the Academy’s flagship diversity and inclusion event in the spring of 2023, as well as other athletics and leadership focused activities to benefit the community at large.

Kelly stated, “It has been the honor of my time as the Superintendent to meet Mr. and Mrs. Fitch. The Fitch family didn’t owe us anything, yet they had the fortitude to provide us an opportunity to demonstrate our growth as an institution and a service. I am grateful for Mr. Fitch’s strength of character, and I know we are both excited to see where this relationship may go as we commit to moving forward together.”

Sponsor Family Application

Thank you for submitting your application to be part of the Sponsor Family Program. Your application will be processed in the upcoming week. Coast Guard Academy’s policy on background screening now requires all adults (everyone 18 and older living in the home) who volunteer to mentor, teach, coach or sponsor cadets, whether on or off Coast Guard Academy grounds, to be screened every 5 years. They are required to provide personal information (name, birth date and social security number) for the purpose of conducting a criminal background check.

The Security Officer at the Coast Guard Academy, CWO2 Gina Polkowski, is overseeing this process. Her email is: Gina.M.Polkowski@uscg.mil.

Sponsor Family designations fall into several different categories. Below are the guidelines to help you determine how best to meet the background screening requirement:

  1. If you are Coast Guard active duty you do not need to apply for an additional Background Check. You will be vetted through the Coast Guard system by CWO2 Polkowski.
  2. If you are a Civilian working for the Coast Guard you do not need to apply for an additional Background Check. You will be vetted through the Coast Guard system by CWO2 Polkowski.
  3. If you are non-Coast Guard Active Duty, you are required to provide proof of your current security clearance or National Agency Check that is to be emailed by your Command Security Officer (CSO)/ Security Office to CWO2 Polkowski at  Gina.M.Polkowski@uscg.mil.
  4. If you are non-Coast Guard civilian who has a current security clearance or National Agency check, you are required to provide proof of your current security clearance or National Agency Check that is to be emailed by your Command Security Officer (CSO)/ Security Office to CWO2 Polkowski at  Gina.M.Polkowski@uscg.mil.
  5. All civilians in the families who are 18 years or older and do not have a security clearance or a National Agency Check are required to be vetted through Mind Your Business, the third party vendor hired by the Coast Guard Academy for the vetting process.

After you complete your application, please e-mail the Sponsor Family Program Coordinator at CadetFamilySponsorProgram@uscga.edu. In your e-mail, you must include the e-mail address and phone number of every adult living in the home. The Sponsor Family Coordinator will then initiate the background check process and you will receive an email with further instructions.

Important things to note:

There is a Sponsor Family Training that is a one-hour training which we ask sponsors to attend once every four years. This training is designed to give you an overview of the program, what is expected of you as a sponsor, and what you can expect from your cadets. This training will also help familiarize you with the cadet regulations onboard CGA. You will be notified via e-mail once the training is scheduled.

The matching process of swabs to families will occur during July and August. Please bear with us and remain flexible through this process. There will be a meet and greet scheduled on Campus, typically in late August. This will give families an opportunity to formally meet their cadet if they have not already done so. Details on this will also be via email.

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