By Alyssa Evans
While more than 15,000 people apply to the United States Naval Academy each year, less than 1,500 are accepted and attend the school as freshmen – recent Blaine High School graduate Alfonso Dermendziev, 18, is one of the academy’s newest students.
“I’ve just felt the need to repay this country. What better way to do it than defend it? This town and country has done so much for my me and my family,” Dermendziev said. “I’ve always wanted to serve my country in the best way possible.”
The academy prepares students to become professional officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Students attend the academy for four years and graduate with a bachelor of science degree. After graduation, students must serve at least five years.
Alfonso leaves for the Annapolis, Maryland academy on June 27. He plans to major in mechanical engineering and play sprint football – which imposes a 178-pound weight limit on players – for the academy. Post-graduation, Alfonso hopes to become a Navy pilot.
“I never thought he was going to go where he is now,” said his mother, Isabel Dermendziev. “It’s a very
Isabel came to the United States from El Salvador in July 1986 to escape the Salvadoran civil war. A few years after, Alfonso’s older siblings were born in San Pedro, California, the family moved to Blaine, which is where Alfonso was born and all three children
“I love this town and I’ve loved growing up and being a product of this town,” Alfonso said. “I’ve made a lot of amazing friends and people who have helped me through this journey.”
A job opportunity at a refinery, nearby schools, the water, parks and Blaine Harbor are what led Isabel to Blaine, she said.
Establishing herself in the U.S. as an immigrant was difficult because of the language barrier and finances, she said. Being a single mother with minimal education put the family in a financially tenuous position, she said.
“His mom is an amazing person and was someone for him to look up to,” said Jay Dodd, Blaine High School head football coach. “She is a very determined and hard worker so he was able to live with that every day. I think she set the stage for Alfonso to do whatever he wants in life.”
Blaine’s community has made a huge impact on Alfonso, he said. Playing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball, he often was supported by his friends and their parents.
“Their parents would always give me rides. They would pay for my hotels and help me out financially because we weren’t always there financially,” Alfonso said. “Helping me through sports was amazing. If I didn’t have that I don’t know if I’d have gone down a different path.”
Alfonso’s church, coaches, teachers, family and friends made a difference in his life, said Magda Dermendziev, Alfonso’s sister.
In high school, Alfonso did it all. He helped his peers as a tutor, often led assemblies through student government, participated in sports and took Advanced Placement classes. Throughout it all, he maintained a 3.8 GPA.
“It’s been really awesome to see how he’s accomplished so much when he’s been given so little,” Magda said. “His upward mobility chances were pretty low just from the family background. It’s really awesome to see he’s obtained a high honor and it’s a good reminder to myself of what you can do from so little.”
During high school, Alfonso played basketball until his sophomore year. He participated in track and football all four years. Alfonso led both by example and with his words, said head track coach Carey Bacon.
Alfonso values hard work and consistently drove himself and his teammates to better their performances, resulting in athletes always being able to count on him, Bacon said. Alfonso was captain of the track team his junior and senior year and was voted most inspirational for three years.
Other students want to live up to Alfonso’s standards, Dodd said. Whenever someone does a great job, Alfonso is usually the first to give them a high-five, tell them “great job,” and encourage them after they succeed, Dodd said.
“If my boy turns out to be like [Alfonso] I would be ecstatic. If my daughter were to date a guy like Alfonso, I would be OK with that,” Dodd said.
Through Alfonso’s education at the academy and his service in the Navy, he will act as an outgoing and inspirational leader, Magda said.
“He’ll be able to make an impact in all those kids’ lives and for the country too,” Magda said. “He has this innate desire to serve and give back after being born here and knowing the opportunities that the country has to offer.”