BVU Wrestler Celebrates Valentine’s Day with ROTC Scholarship

Sophomore Don Phillips II was surprised with the announcement that he had received a two-year scholarship by virtue of his acceptance into the BVU's Army ROTC program, including a monthly stipend and payment to cover books.

Buena Vista University sophomore wrestler Don Phillips II shouted, pumped his fist, ran in a half-circle while jumping around the mat in Siebens Fieldhouse on Thursday.

The source of his jubilation? A “valentine” valued at $94,658.

“Quite a Valentine’s Day gift,” Phillips says while shaking his head and smiling.

The oversized check was hand-delivered in a surprise announcement made by CPT Daniel Manor, BVU assistant professor of military science and director of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at Buena Vista University. Manor has participated in similar surprises in the past, ones in which he drops by an athletic practice to let a Beaver know he/she has qualified for a scholarship of full tuition over a two- to three-year period by virtue of the student’s acceptance into the ROTC program on campus.

“This is such a blessing. I can now serve our soldiers and the people of our country and get my education paid for while doing it.”

Don Phillips II

He’d never delivered this news on Valentine’s Day, however. That changed on Thursday when Mark Rial, BVU wrestling coach, invited Manor to visit the wrestling room as practice began.

Manor let Phillips know the Army ROTC would pay Phillips’ tuition at BVU over his junior and senior years. Additionally, the ROTC would offer a $420 monthly stipend to Phillips and one payment each semester of $600 to help with the cost of books. Finally, BVU will pay Phillips’ room-and-board costs the next two years, something the University does for each ROTC cadet scholar.

All told, it adds up to a financial award commitment of $94,648, one that, when finished, will see Phillips graduating from BVU and entering the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant, prepared for a four-year commitment.

“Don has been striving for this for the past year-and-a-half,” Manor says. “He’s been pushing himself and it has made a huge impact.”

Phillips, a kinesiology major from Las Vegas, Nevada, enrolled in BVU’s ROTC military science classes as a freshman, intending on earning this scholarship for the last three years of his college experience. A full plate of academics, participation in two sports, physical training and lab classes, and being away from home for the first time left him falling short of that goal following his freshman year. 

Phillips stayed on campus in Storm Lake last summer and admitted he grew close to shipping his possessions back to Las Vegas and returning home on a permanent basis. Then he had a discussion with  key mentors, including Manor, Rial and Sean White, assistant wrestling coach. All of them showed patience and encouragement.

“Coach Rial even got me to start eating the right things and drinking lots and lots of water,” says Phillips, who decided to focus on one sport, wrestling, as a sophomore. “My diet and workouts led allowed me to really improve my 1-mile and 2-mile times for my (ROTC) physical training. I also earned a 3.1 grade-point average in class. Things started coming together for me.”

BVU senior Carson Rhoads, a Beaver wrestler and ROTC cadet, kept urging his teammate to focus his efforts on mind and body. “Carson knew I could do this,” Phillips says. “He’s been telling me I could achieve this since we met.”

Phillips’ recent application was sent by Manor to ROTC officials at Iowa State University, who have worked with Buena Vista University since the program launched here 10 years ago. Manor received word of Phillips’ acceptance recently and shared the good news on Valentine’s Day.

“I called my mom on Thursday night to tell her the news,” Phillips says. “It was a pretty emotional call. My mom, Gwendolynn T. Suarez, has been telling me since I could walk and talk that hard work would pay off. This is such a blessing. I can now serve our soldiers and the people of our country and get my education paid for while doing it.”

He kept smiling and shaking his head, stunned at the positive turn his life took hours before, concluding, “What an incredible Valentine’s Day!”