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'Not every school is like this:' MSU military members relish moment at Armed Forces Classic

November 14, 2022
Lieutenant Commander Sean Newman meets up with Tom and Steven Izzo one day before the Armed Forces Classic on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Photo courtesy of MSU Athletics.
Lieutenant Commander Sean Newman meets up with Tom and Steven Izzo one day before the Armed Forces Classic on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Photo courtesy of MSU Athletics. —

CORONADO, Calif. — When 2011 rolled around and Michigan State prepped for a groundbreaking matchup versus North Carolina aboard the USS Carl Vinson, Sean Newman was disappointed. 

A lifelong Spartan fan, Newman had just graduated from MSU in 2010, narrowly missing out on the experience as a student. He also was in the process of commissioning into the military, narrowly missing out on the experience as a sailor. 

Newman was stuck in no-man's-land. 

Then 11 years later, MSU announced it was returning to San Diego to play in the Armed Forces Classic aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. It was perfect for now-Lieutenant Commander Sean Newman, who works in Point Loma, California “over yonder across the way.”

“We were hounding tickets and doing everything we could to get in,” Newman said on the sunny yet breezy flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln an hour before Michigan State lost a heartbreaker to No. 2 Gonzaga.

The day before, MSU received a tour of the mammoth 1,092-foot-long ship while also meeting some crew members, including Commanding Officer Amy Bauernschmidt, the first woman to serve as an executive officer of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. 

The Spartans also held their one and only shootaround on the aircraft carrier, utilizing the time to adjust to the unique conditions of playing in an organized outdoor basketball game. As Head Coach Tom Izzo remarked afterward, the shootaround was windy and a little colder than anticipated. 

Newman can attest. That’s because he was there with a special invite to watch. 

“You see the challenges of playing on a carrier,” Newman said. “It's windy up here. It's gonna get cold tonight.”

Other than being a member of the Izzone and rooting on the Spartans all the way to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2009 and 2010, Newman’s connections with the team go way further than that. When he was in middle school, Newman, a third-generation Spartan, attended a Tom Izzo Summer Camp, where he met Izzo. 

“I was just a kid and there was Tom Izzo right in the middle of the basketball court and it was like getting my hero,” Newman said. “It was pretty cool.”

He also was named the camp’s most improved player. 

“This tells you a little bit about how good I was,” Newman joked.

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Then there is Newman’s mother, Diane, the principal of Haslett Middle School. It’s the former school of senior guard and son of Tom Izzo, Steven Izzo and also a frequent stop of community outreach for the Spartans within the greater Lansing area. 

“My mom, those players taking, prioritizing coming to that school, it means a lot to her students just being in the community,” Newman said. “My grandpa, before he passed, went to a high school game and met Tom Izzo and Tom sat down, gave him the time of day and that meant a lot. It really did.”

When Newman wasn’t sporting a white shirt, bouncing up and down in the Izzone while MSU was playing defense, a lot of his time went toward his studies. Newman was at the James Madison College as an international relations major. He believed the Navy was the perfect fit for him to utilize his craft, even though he didn’t have any family members previously serve in the military. 

“What better way to go international than the Navy,” Newman said. “I think when you're a student, you're in academia and you're doing a lot of writing, and it doesn't feel like it's tangible. So I wanted to do something that I felt kind of (like) I was doing something, if that makes sense.”

“So I really didn't know what to expect when I got into it. Well, what you find is it's really the population that puts on a uniform every day kind of has shared values,” Newman said. “It's pretty much like a 9-to-5, quote-unquote, except for every once in a while you do these, like, crazy things.”

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Among the “crazy things,” Newman has been stationed across the country in Georgia and the Pacific Northwest, where he met his wife, Samantha, who is Canadian and was living in Vancouver. 

He’s also been stationed in various countries internationally, including Japan, where he had a run-in with a fellow Spartan – one of the first people he met across the ocean. The two of them spent numerous overnights staying up late or waking up early to watch Michigan State football and basketball games. 

“It's just that moment of like, 'OK, we're boys. We're boys now. Let's go,’” Newman said.

Newman said the population of sailors in terms of where they went to school is sporadic, though he’s had a few other coincidental meet-ups with other Spartans.

“When you do meet them, you don't forget it,” Newman said. “You kind of have an instant connection.”

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So when Friday afternoon arrived and Newman took his seat in the baseline bleachers within a swarm of green and white, he was finally back in his element. Although the Spartans came up a hair short, Newman and the three thousand-plus military members got to experience a little sense of normalcy on Veterans Day. 

“Not every school is like this,” Newman said. “I meet a lot of the other grads from other places and they just don't care quite as much, right? It's like that bond isn't strong and I think Michigan State is a little bit stronger than (those) places.”

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