Four 44-foot sailboats from The United States Naval Academy Offshore Sail Training Squadron will sail into Rockport Harbor on Friday to signal the start of Rockport Navy Weekend.
An annual event since 2007, Rockport Navy Weekend has given the town the chance to show its appreciation to the young men and women of the Navy through social and sporting events designed to reach as many members of the community as possible.
“Of course, we’re always proud to show off Rockport, but our primary goal is to do something for the servicemen and servicewomen of the Navy,” said Roger Lesch, a retired police officer and Navy veteran who originally suggested having the Navy in for a visit in 2007 and now cochairs the event.
The midshipmen of the naval academy will be joined for the weekend by sailors from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, the USS Constitution in Boston, and the Navy band from Newport, R.I.
The sailors and midshipmen will stay with local families, take part in kickball and softball games, and give tours and demonstrations, all open to the public. The festivities will wrap up on Sunday afternoon with a concert by the Navy band. All events are open to the public and most are free, although the band concert may require a ticket obtained in advance.
“Part of our mission is to allow the public to interact with the Navy in a meaningful way,” said Sharon Grandmaison, cochairwoman of the Rockport Navy Weekend Committee. “The events are set up to that purpose. From young to old, members of the community can interact with sailors throughout the weekend — from 6-year-olds to veterans in our local nursing homes.”
One of the highlights of the weekend is the Saturday evening softball game between a pickup team from the Navy and one from Rockport. Until this year, the local team was made up of members of the Police and Fire departments, but the team was expanded this year to include all interested town employees or residents.
With umpires, ceremonies, hot dogs (donated by locally owned Top Dog) and more on the grill, a D.J., and a festive crowd, “it creates a great environment,” said Rockport team captain Mark Schmink.
“It’s usually a younger group, where everyone’s competitive,” said Schmink, a lieutenant in the Rockport Police Department. “It’s always good-natured, but still pretty competitive. We want to win, and they want to win.”
Betty Hudder, 87, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, has become a big fan of the Navy band, which plays on Sunday.
“The musicianship is excellent,” she said. “You figure that with a Navy or Army band they’d play all marches, but they play a variety of everything, and are really very good. I enjoy it immensely.”
Between events, the host families will take their guests out on boats, hold cookouts, or take them swimming.
The sailors and midshipmen “love it,” said Lesch, who noted that he still needed a few more families to host the guests, and he asked anyone interested to check the website rocnavcom.org. “The host families take good care of them.
“We couldn’t do this without the hospitality of the people of Rockport,” Lesch said. “The host families have been fantastic over the years. That’s what makes it work. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work.”
Mary Francis and her husband, Chuck, will host four midshipmen this year, and have hosted others in the past.
“It’s a good way to show hospitality and make connections with young folks who are going to go somewhere with their lives, and give them some support on their way,” said Francis, who has kept in touch with some of the midshipmen she’s hosted.
The weekend’s worth of events is paid for through donations by individuals and local businesses.