You’d never pick them as the typical VMI family. They’re from Northern California, and no one in their family had attended the Institute before the current generation.
But on post—especially in the area of water sports—the name “Berry” has come to mean something.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Catherine “Catie” Berry ’18 double majored in international studies and history at VMI. She was a member of both the women’s water polo team and the women’s swimming team, as well as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Newman Club, an organization supporting Catholic cadets. During her 1st Class year, she was captain of the S5 staff, public relations, and was captain of the water polo team, as well.
Just after Catie graduated, her younger sister, Madeleine “Maddie” Berry ’22, matriculated. Like her sister, Maddie played water polo, and served as the S4 EMS chief her 1st Class year, overseeing all 73 cadet EMTs. In May 2022, she followed in her sister’s footsteps, commissioning into the Army. She graduated with a biology major and a Spanish minor.
“VMI is the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Maddie. “I’ve had so many different opportunities that people I know from back home could never have had.”
As a rat, far from home and without her parents and siblings, Maddie drew comfort from the fact that even if people didn’t know her, they knew her sister and remembered her with respect and fondness.
“When I got to VMI, everyone was very supportive of me,” said Maddie. “Because they knew that I was Catie’s little sister—they could take one look at me. And they’re like—you’re a Berry. And it made me feel so much better because I knew that someone was looking out for me.”
As her cadetship advanced, Maddie found her footing and forged a path of her own. She’d thought about becoming a member of the S5 staff like her sister, but in the end, she found her place as a cadet EMT.
“I’m going to make my own route, and I’m going to do my own thing,” said Maddie of her decision to become an EMT. “And [Catie] was completely supportive the entire time. She always was in my corner.”
If it hadn’t been for water polo, a sport only available to high schoolers in some states, the Berry sisters might have lived their entire lives without ever having heard of VMI, much less have matriculated there. That awareness began when their older sister, Maggie, was recruited to play the sport at VMI. She ultimately chose a different school, but suddenly, a small college on the East Coast was on the family’s radar.
Next up was Catie, the middle sister. At first, VMI didn’t seem a likely choice—she’d told her parents she wasn’t interested in a military school. Without Catie’s knowledge, though, Mark Berry, her father, had sent the Institute’s water polo coach a video of his daughter in the pool. That video turned into an invitation to come East and visit.
“And I said, all right, I’ll come because I just want a free trip to Virginia,” said Catie. She arrived on post just in time to see a rat workout in progress, with cadre yelling and rats doing pushups. The first thoughts of “what on Earth have I gotten myself into,” though, were quickly replaced by an appreciation of the bond that VMI women in particular share.
“But as I got to know the women specifically at VMI, [there] was this bond and this union, and they’re all well accomplished,” Catie stated. “They’re all smart. They’re all driven. And that is what I wanted out of myself. That was the end result I wanted to feel after college. I wanted to feel that camaraderie. … I found my tribe with the water polo team.”
The youngest Berry sister has likewise felt that camaraderie while learning how to stretch out of her comfort zone at the same time.
“VMI has shown me how much I am truly capable of,” Maddie commented. “When I first came to VMI, my plan was to get my degree, play water polo, and roll with all the school gave me. I never imagined that I’d be in this kind of leadership position today. But that is what VMI does—it forces us to reach our potential even if we don’t see it.”
“I love the Keydet Club. I hope more younger alums get involved because it’s fun. It’s fun to know that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. And the second thing is that we all talk about how grateful we are for the Institute, and one of the ways you can show that is make sure that someone else can have that same experience that you had.”Catie Berry '18
And even with the youngest Berry set to graduate this spring, the family’s legacy will live on.
A future water polo player will have an enhanced opportunity to reach her potential and play her sport on the Division I level, thanks to the Catherine Berry ’18 & Madeline Berry ’22 Women’s Water Polo Scholarship, recently established by the girls’ parents, Mark and Jennifer Berry. It’s only the second scholarship endowment for a water polo player in the Keydet Club’s history.
“It was a pleasure working with the Berry family to establish this scholarship,” said Andrew Deal ’12, Keydet Club chief operating officer. “Catie and Maddie are both very impressive and represent the Institute well. This scholarship will have an everlasting impact on the women’s water polo program. The scholarship will increase the resources needed to recruit and retain competitive young women who are needed to ‘compete to win.’”
For the Berrys, it’s only natural to give back to an institution dedicated to preparing young people for lives of leadership and service. The Berry girls attended Catholic schools before VMI, and their parents were glad to see them choose colleges with more than a career focus.
“[VMI] is a unique place, given the times in which we live, which still puts a priority on country and honor,” said Mark of his and his wife’s decision to support future cadets.
“We just feel passionate that [VMI] is such a great option for young people out there,” Jennifer added. “It puts them on the path to be productive and give back.”
Because most Virginia high schools don’t offer water polo, players on the VMI team usually come from out-of-state schools, which means higher tuition bills—or the possibility of a star player choosing a more affordable, in-state school. The scholarship is intended to help offset that cost.
“That out-of-state tuition is painful,” said Jennifer. “We felt that this was a way to help some of those kids manage that burden a little bit more.”
Catie, now serving in human resources with the Army in Columbia, South Carolina, confesses she “bawled and cried” with happiness at Christmas when she and her sisters opened envelopes and learned of the scholarships—as Maggie also now has a scholarship in her name at Gonzaga University, where she rowed Division I crew. “That was the best Christmas gift,” said Catie. “That’s something that’s going to be hard to top.”
Giving back had been on Catie’s mind for some time.
“I wanted to eventually be able to afford to do something like that,” she noted. “I was very fortunate that my parents went ahead and did it for me. … Maddie and I are the first water polo players whose families have given back. That was also an incredibly emotional moment.”
Four years out from graduation, with Army tours in South Korea and Qatar under her belt, the high schooler who once didn’t want to attend a military school is now a confident and proud VMI alumna who’d like to see other young alumni and their families give back.
“I’m a big, big supporter of the VMI family,” said Catie. “I love the Keydet Club. I hope more younger alums get involved because it’s fun. It’s fun to know that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. And the second thing is that we all talk about how grateful we are for the Institute, and one of the ways you can show that is make sure that someone else can have that same experience that you had.”
In mid-February, Catie was making travel plans for March. She planned to head north to Lexington to watch her sister play in one of her final home meets. They’ve shared what most siblings share—toys, books, and memories, to name a few—but in the case of Catie and Maddie, it’s an even deeper bond, one forged by the Rat Line, cross-country plane trips, and hours and hours spent treading chlorinated water.
“It’s not just my name on a scholarship,” Catie noted. “It’s my little sister’s name. There’s history between the two of us.”
For Catie, the scholarship is but one expression of her gratitude.
“I don’t think I could ever repay VMI for what [it] provided for me, how [it] developed me, how [it] pushed me.”
Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content
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