James Madison
Members of the James Madison (Texas) High School armed exhibition team have their helmets shined before taking the drill floor at last month's Army nationals drill meet in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 3, 2013) -- He had done the calculations. No matter how retired Lt. Col. Amador Cano looked at them and crunched them, the numbers just didn't add up.

After all the training, all the fund-raising and all the success at last month's Army Nationals, James Madison High School was $7,500 short of being able to send its armed and unarmed teams to Daytona to compete at the National High School Drill Team Championships.

A disappointed Cano, beaming over his Cadets' accomplishments, broke the news to them. Without another major money-making project, the teams that second and third at the service-level meet wouldn't get a shot to vie for a national title.

Not this year anyway.

So the proud Soldier, short on options, decided to do something he had never considered before.

He asked for help.

Cano, senior Army instructor for James Madison, punched out an email to his fellow Army JROTC instructors in San Antonio, asking what they might be able to contribute to help James Madison close its financial gap.

In just a matter of weeks, all they did was spread the word throughout the community, come together and end up raising close to $8,000 to ensure James Madison, the city's lone Army representative, would be able to take the floor this weekend in masters level competition.

"This is what JROTC is all about," Cano said. "You're competitive on the drill pad. But when the day is over, we're all friends and looking out for each other."

The road to gold at the national drill meet is colored green. It always has been, considering that making the trip can cost a program tens of thousands of dollars, depending, of course, on the distance from Daytona and the number of Cadets traveling to compete.

The estimated price tag for James Madison is $26,000 to $28,000. That includes bus transportation, lodging and meals for the six-day trip for Cadets, cadre and chaperones.

JROTC programs begin raising money in the fall for various events in which they'll compete over the course of the school year. James Madison held a variety of fund-raisers, including selling Christmas trees during the holidays, holding rummage sales and peddling barbeque. But those ventures collectively were down at least a few thousand dollars from last year.

Even though students are required to pay $300 each to make the Daytona trip, it wasn't enough to overcome the shortfall.

When Chief Warrant Officer 4 Richard Gonzales, the senior Army instructor at nearby Winston Churchill High School, got Cano's email, he considered the plea a call to action for a deploying sister unit.

"When a sister unit deploys, if you're not deploying, it's all hands on deck to support the trip," he said.

Working in concert with colleagues at Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur high schools, Gonzales spearheaded the effort, forwarding Cano's email to others who could help, who in turn forwarded it to even more.

Two senior Churchill Cadets then orchestrated a fund-raiser called Coins for Madison, where students went around the community toting red buckets and collecting several thousand dollars in change.

The list of those donating to the cause is lengthy. St. Margaret's Episcopal Church gave $1,000, the school district contributed $1,500 and local council members donated, too. State Rep. Joe Straus, the Texas speaker of the house who hails from San Antonio, chipped in as well.

Even the bus company offered assistance, defraying half of its fee till after the trip.

"This was a rare opportunity to help one of our own, which was a strong source of motivation," Gonzales said. "There is a spirit of competition that drives them (the Cadets), but this was a spirit of unity."

Cano doesn't yet have a final tally on the total raised and contributed the last few weeks. Money was still coming in to his office a couple of days ago.

"I'm proud of our kids, our school and our district," Cano said. "I just don't know what I'm going to do to thank them. There's no way I can repay their kindness."

The unprecedented effort hasn't surprised James Madison Cadets.

"Knowing we worked so hard to get to this point, it was somewhat disappointing," Melissa Kidder, commander of the unarmed team, said of learning of the shortfall. "There was no doubt we wouldn't make it."

James Madison arrives in Daytona today, settling in and practicing before masters level competition begins Sunday. Cadets are confident -- as are many in San Antonio -- about their chances of returning home as national champions.

Considering the way in which those throughout the city rallied around the program, Cadets like James Choate, commander for James Madison's armed team, feel more pressure to succeed.

"With all the people who are counting on us to go do well and people who have put in their money when they didn't have to, we don't want to disappoint them," he said. "With all the support behind us, we'll do our best. Hopefully, that will show in our results."

Page last updated Thu May 2nd, 2013 at 00:00