Whether it’s flag football, basketball, softball, soccer or volleyball, if a unit is matched up to play the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, chances are it will see Michael Boganowski on the field or court.
Standing 6-feet-4 and weighing 245 pounds, Boganowski plays five of the six available intramural sports, which include the five above and golf, more than any other Soldier on Fort Benning.
“He’s an athletic bear,” 1/19 soccer player and teammate Ian Trowers said about Boganowski. “I’m glad he’s in my company.”
Boganowski grew up in Omaha, Neb., where the Cornhuskers reign and residents live and breathe football. “My first love growing up was baseball, but I took more to football,” he said. “I think, by far, football is my best sport.”
Boganowski has the stats to back that statement up. He played tight end and defensive end at Bellevue West High School and led the state in receptions and receiving yards in 1996, his senior year. After high school, he played four years of college football as a defensive end at New Mexico State from 1997-2001. He started three of those years.
The 1/19 flag football team, which finished in third place in 2010, values Boganowski as a quick and big receiver. He also lends time to teach the less skilled and inexperienced players.
“You could tell he knew a lot about football,” said Jeff Stitzel, former sergeant major of 1/19 now stationed at Fort Myer, Va., with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). “He brought that leadership quality.”
Stitzel and Boganowki played all available intramural sports together in 2010, in which 1/19 finished runner-up in the Commander’s Cup standings, before Stitzel was transferred to Fort Myer.
Stitzel said he harped on Soldiers in 1/19 to not only play intramural sports, but play as many as possible. He said winning the Commander’s Cup was part of the reason, but forming unity and camaraderie was the main idea.
“I’m a big believer that units that do well in intramural sports tend to be good units,” Stitzel said. “Success breeds success. If you feel like you’re on a winning team it always carries over to what you do in your day-to-day business.”
When Boganowski arrived at Fort Benning from Fort Campbell, Ky., Stitzel drew Boganowski into intramurals by showing an immediate interest in his athletic skills.
“I was committed because (Stitzel) told me I was going to be there and so I was there,” Boganowski said. “He asked me, ‘You play basketball?’ I said, ‘Roger, sergeant major.’ He said, ‘We’ve got a game tonight.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there, sergeant major.’”
On the soccer field, Trowers said Boganowski is just as eager to take advice as he is to give it. Boganowski admitted soccer and volleyball were not his best sports.
“I never really played soccer until I was in Afghanistan in 08 and 09,” Boganowski said. “I’ve always watched the World Cup but never really been to a soccer practice or played any organized soccer.
“It seems like I don’t have the coordination. It’s hard to keep the ball on your foot and you have to have quick feet. I like it because it’s challenging, but that’s probably my most difficult sport.”
But what he has learned about soccer since he started playing intramurals has come mostly from guys like Trowers, who grew up playing soccer in Jamaica and played for a semiprofessional team in Germany.
“I’m always asking them, ‘What should I have done here?’” Boganowski said. “‘How did I mess up?’ I’m always trying to learn because I enjoy it and I want to win, ultimately, so I try to do whatever I can do to help the team win.”
As a defensive specialist for the 1/19 soccer team, Boganowski said it is easier for him to let his teammates worry about offense while he worries about preventing the other team from scoring.
“I showed him the different roles and he took that one role as a defender and became great at it,” Trowers said. “He’s a great asset. He’s our defensive backbone. With him in the backfield, we are unstoppable. If he continues working on his game, I see him going out for All-Army as a defender in a year or two.”
However, Trowers also said Boganowski occasionally takes shots on goal, which he said is rare for a defender.Trowers said he would like to make Boganowski an offensive threat and occasionally teaches him the art of kicking precise shots.
1/19 has never won the Commander’s Cup, but has come close the last two years. It finished third in 2009. But Boganowski said there are other reasons behind him playing so many sports, like the determination to keep the commitment to his unit and not let them down.
“The urgency to win (the Commander’s Cup) would change, but if we won it then next year we have to try to defend and win again,” Boganowski said. “If we won it this year, not too much would change.”