Lexi Hernandez initially enrolled at Admiral Farragut to join her softball buddies. She did not know much about the military aspect of the school.
As a newcomer, Hernandez walked past buildings now declared historical landmarks. She found out more about artifacts, such as the sword David Glasgow Farragut used in battle, that are displayed on a campus where American history comes alive.
Hernandez also learned about famous graduates, such as astronaut Charles Duke, one of 12 men to walk on the moon.
She loved everything about the school: the uniforms, the discipline, the tradition. That made the three-hour round-trip commute from Tampa all the more bearable. Hernandez now spends nearly 12 hours on campus, doing everything from athletics to drills.
Softball played a big role, too. The Blue Jackets already had a burgeoning program when she arrived. They are now a consistent state title contender. Today, Admiral Farragut (18-10) returns to Vero Beach to compete for its second straight Class 3A state title.
Hernandez, who plays second base, has embraced the military life so much that she wants to continue it beyond high school. Her top collegiate choice is Army, the lone military academy that has a softball program.
To get there, the junior goes to Army softball camps throughout the summer.
“At first I thought I would be a good candidate for the Naval Academy,” Hernandez said. “I started to focus on Army after I realized that was where I could play softball. I hope to get an appointment. I think going to Farragut and having their weight as a military school will help with that.”
There is some familiarity with the armed forces. One uncle recently left the Air Force after six years. Another retired from the Army after serving three tours.
“I knew when I got there I wanted to be challenged,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to be in charge. So I embraced it.”
Her first week she joined the drill team. It did not stop there. She also became part of a Leadership Academy through ROTC, becoming the first cadet to earn the rank of platoon commander for the area in more than 10 years.
In January, Hernandez showed even more devotion when she decided to live on campus as a boarding student rather than commute each day.
Juggling so many activities, on and off the field, can be draining. Hernandez often does not begin homework until late at night.
“It’s all about time management,” she said.
There were also adjustments to be made in softball.
Linda Derk, who led the softball program from its infancy a decade ago, stepped down as coach and athletic director in December and is now a hitting coach for Great Britain’s national team. Three days after that decision became official, the Blue Jackets hired Bill Hoopes.
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Hoopes, a longtime travel coach who was at Wesley Chapel last season, jumped at the chance to be in charge of a softball program at a military academy. After all, he spent 16 years in the Navy (2000-15), rising to chief petty officer.
“I’ve known Coach Hoopes for a while from travel ball so that helped with the transition,” Hernandez said. “I kind of helped others to know what to expect with the change.”
After a few early-season bumps, the Blue Jackets are back on track. They enter the semifinals having won 11 of their past 12 games. Hernandez is doing her part, hitting .438 with two home runs and 18 RBIs.
Once the state tournament ends, Hernandez will home to be with her family (they now live in Brooksville). But there will be plenty of travel to tournaments and camps.
And a return trip to Farragut as a cadre (teacher) for the Leadership Academy. When Hernandez returns to live on campus in the fall, she will be a battalion commander, the second-highest of her class.
“I’ve known Lexi since she was 10 years old,” Hoopes said. “She is a captain and a true leader of the team. And she is one of just two females on campus to apply to be regimental commander (the highest ranking for a class). It’s amazing to see how much she’s changed and improved the last few years."
State softball semifinals
Jackie Robinson Training Complex, Vero Beach
Admission: $9 advance, $12 day of; parking $10.
Class 2A: Palatka Peniel Baptist vs. Academy at the Lakes, 10:35 a.m. Tuesday
Class 3A: Jacksonville University Christian vs. Admiral Farragut, 3:35 p.m. Tuesday
Class 4A: Tampa Catholic vs. Miami Westminster Christian, 7:20 p.m. Tuesday
Class 5A: Hernando vs. Coral Springs Charter, 9:50 a.m. Thursday
Class 9A: Newsome vs. Coral Gables, 7:50 p.m. Thursday