The threat of torrential rain from Hurricane Joaquin cancelled Navy’s soccer game last week against chief rival Army, but nothing can dampen the bond between Thomas and Mark Shiiba. (The game has been rescheduled for Tues., Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. ET)
Growing up in the Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore, the Shiibas were like most brothers, competing together in various sports. Whether in the backyard or on a more competitive field of play they were far more often than not together.
That holds true today. They not only practice, travel and play together as members of the men’s soccer program, but they also live one floor apart at the Academy with Thomas in 3rd Company and Mark in 2nd Company.
“We get along extremely well,” Thomas said earlier this week. “You think brothers are supposed to fight a lot, and we did in high school, but in college I do not think we have gotten into an argument. That is weird especially for how much we hang out together. Not only are we on the same team and practice and play together, but he lives near me and we will hang out together.”
Thomas is a senior forward and Mark is a junior defender. This is their third season as teammates on the Midshipmen. Little could they have imagined that they would continue to play together through college, let alone at a place as prestigious as the Naval Academy.
“To even play together in college and to do so at an institution like the Naval Academy has been pretty unbelievable,” said Mark.
For Thomas attending the academy was a no-brainer. Among the campuses he visited while deciding what institution to attend the academy stood out to the point he immediately felt he would be Annapolis-bound after graduating high school.
“As soon as I visited the academy I was so impressed by everybody I met on the soccer team and in the brigade,” he recalled. “It was unique how driven they were. Other college visits I went on were very much about soccer and one dimensional in that respect. Here, it was well-rounded with people that had many goals well down the road.”
A year later when he was about to make his decision Mark was not so sure about joining his brother in Annapolis. Rather, he was seriously looking at attending George Mason and Seton Hall. Delaware was also in the mix with Navy merely part of the conversation.
“There were a couple of times (Thomas) would sell the Academy, but there was never any plan or pressure to go,” said Mark. “He exposed me to the Naval Academy, but I never planned to go there until it was pretty late in the process. I think everybody has a little bit of hesitation in committing so much of their lives and time to the military. Even when I committed I was a little bit unsure.”
A five-year military commitment awaits after graduation. But after two-plus years at the academy and as a teammate of Thomas, Mark cannot say enough about the choice he made.
“I think over time the decision has shown to be the right one,” he said. “It has been a really great experience to be with my brother and to be with him so much of the time.”
For Thomas, having his brother ultimately commit to the Naval Academy represented an opportunity to re-connect after being together since they could remember. As youths there were countless times they made the short walk from their home to the soccer fields of Swarthmore College. It was a path they wore out as they spent hours bonding — and, yes, sometimes arguing — playing a sport they loved.
Then there were all the moments together as they made their way through junior high and high school until 2012, when Thomas began his career with the Midshipmen and Mark was back home completing high school.
“It is one of those things that he had been with me my whole life and then when he ended up coming to the military academy it was like nothing changed,” said Thomas, the second oldest of Atsushi and Christine’s five children. “It is pretty unusual to play with a brother in college, or even go to the same college as your brother. I think I have to step back and really look at it to appreciate it because he has pretty much been there my whole life.”