A Sag Harbor ‘Fighting Spirit’ Goes Semper Fi in Washington

Pierson High School senior Paige Schaefer with her mentor, Gregg Schiavoni, at the Semper Fidelis Battles Won Academy in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

Paige Schaefer fit right in at the Semper Fidelis Battles Won Academy in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. The rising senior at Pierson High School met all the program’s requirements. Has she played a competitive sport? Schaefer is the top returning field hockey player at Pierson and has also competed in varsity basketball and softball. Is she a strong student? A leader in the community? Does she give total effort in everything she does?

Schaefer checked all the boxes.

“Students will be selected for the program based on moral character and academic performance in addition to athletic abilities,” the program’s website states in terms of how it whittles down roughly 6,000 applicants to the 96 who traveled to Washington on July 12 for a four-day immersive experience with the United States Marine Corp. “Most critically, nominees must demonstrate a fighting spirit that improves lives of their fellow citizens.”

Part of the experience was training like a U.S. Marine for the day on the Quantico base in Washington.

Most of the children who attend the academy and become “All Americans” have overcome some form of adversity. In addition to meeting the basic requirements, applicants submit an essay about themselves and what they have overcome in their lives. Paige and her brother, Peter, lost their father, Peter Schaefer, in March of 2016 when he was just 54 years old.   

“I talked about how losing my father has helped me to overcome challenges and have a different outlook on life,” Schaefer, 17, said about her essay. “I really wanted to do this because I was looking to meet kids who are just like me, but from different places.”

Children from across America traveled to Washington with a mentor — not a family member —for the Semper Fidelis program and participated in daily workouts and challenges. They participated in an immersive experience at Marine Corps Base Quantico, heard from an elite circle of speakers from all walks of life and toured the nation’s capital, including the National Archives, where Schaefer enjoyed seeing the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Participants also endured a Crossfit Challenge with the creator of Crossfit and built bikes for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington D.C.

Joining Schaefer on the trip was her mentor, Gregg Schiavoni, whose son, Cooper, is also a rising senior at Pierson.

“I’ve known her since nursery school. She’s always been very involved in sports, she does extremely well in school, she’s very focused and she wants to go to college for bio-chemical engineering,” Schiavoni said. “I think she sets the bar high for herself and does whatever is needed to obtain her goals.”

Physical challenges were part of Paige Schaefer’s daily routine during the four-day immersive experience.

Schaefer’s father was also a celebrated athlete at Pierson, helping lead the Whalers to a state basketball championship. He also was captain of the golf team. Schiavoni said Schaefer’s passion for sports can be traced directly to her father.

“I think when you have somebody close to you pass away, you try to stay busy and do some things that you enjoy as much as they did,” he said.

Schaefer was nominated for the Semper Fidelis program by Pierson Athletic Director Eric Bramoff, who said his plan is to recommend Pierson student athletes for the program on an annual basis.

“We have many amazing student athletes at Pierson,” Bramoff said. “When I looked at the criteria for this program, I knew Paige would be perfect. She is passionate in everything she does. Her approach to academics and athletics is always all in, 100 percent. She has had to overcome some serious obstacles in her personal life, but that’s not the main reason I recommended her.

“I recommended her,” he continued, “because I knew she would represent our school and community in the best way possible.”

Paige Schaefer, second from left, with new friends in Washington, D.C.