ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter issued a challenge to the 2018 plebe class Monday afternoon: Try to beat the 1 hour, 20 minutes it took his class of '81 to scale the Herndon Monument and replace the plebe Dixie cup with a midshipman's cover, signifying the end of the grueling plebe year.
The fourth classmen reshmen came close at 1 hour, 38 minutes and 36 seconds, when 19-year-old Javarri Beachum stretched his 5-foot-7-inch frame to nudge the cover over the top of the obelisk as the few thousand spectators roared their approvalcrowd went wild.
Beachum, a native of Port St. Joe, Florida, told reporters he knew he'd be the one to get to the top.
"My sponsor was the first one — I told her, 'Don't worry, I'll be the one to put it up there,' " he told reporters.
It was a long slog to the top, as the mids worked to wipe off 50 pounds of vegetable shortening slatheredspread over the 21 feet of the monument by sophomores, who completed the climb last year.
They etched "Hard bodies, sharper minds," into the grease, then stood back and sprayed the underclassmen with hoses as they scrambled.
Some ambitious plebes made a rush for the top early on, but after about an hour, a solid base had formed, and most of the class linked arms and formed a sturdy support ring to handle the upper rungs of classmatespushed background into the monument to reinforce it.
At one point, a downpour cut through the stifling humidity, but hundreds of spectators stuck it out to the end.
It took just over an hour for a sopping wet T-shirt to fly over the obelisk and knock off the taped-down Dixie cup. Then the real work began.
Plebes support their classmates as they struggle to climb the Herndon Monument at the Naval Academy. They are officially no longer plebes once they replace the Dixie cup at the top of the monument with a combination cover.
Photo Credit: Nathan A. Wilkes/Navy
Beachum credited his classmates with helping him get to the top, but the group had did have some clear strategies.
"We put the bigger guys on the bottom, all that we could, but even they couldn't hold out for long, because that was a long hour and a half," he said. "It took our whole class just pushing together."
Several women also made it to the top layer, about four mids tall. In the end, it was the little things that set Beachum apart.
He told reporters he turned his greasy T-shirt inside out after the obelisk was mostly clean, to give himself a non-slippery surface. He also kept his socks on, he said, to cut down on slippage.
Once he had solid footing, he asked other plebes to throw him T-shirts, which he tossed to the top of the monument to create a nest to catch the cover.
Each year, the roughly 1,000 members of the academy's plebe (freshman) class form a human pyramid to scale the grease-covered 21-foot tall obelisk.
Photo Credit: Nathan A. Wilkes/Navy
It took a few tosses before the cover settled at 1:38 and the freshmen erupted into a chant, "Plebes no more!"
Last year's Herndon champ, Midshipman 3rd Class Mike Landry, looked on beaming as Beachum posed for photographs.
"It was great to watch him up there," Landry said.
Beachum, a member of 25th Company, is an ocean engineering major with his eye on aviation, he told Navy Times.
Legend has it that the plebe to scale the Herndon Monument will be the first to make admiral, but "that has never happened," Carter told the crowd before the climb began.
The first recorded Herndon climb, in 1963, took 12 minutes in 1963. The record is 1one minute and 30 seconds, but that was before upperclassmen the mids started greasing the monument.
The longest climb on record took 4 hours, 5 minutes and 17 seconds in 1998.
The Herndon climb kicks off commissioning week at the academy. The class of 2015 will graduate and transition to ensigns and second lieutenants on Friday.