Challenge level national drill
West Creek (Tenn.) High School co-captains Christopher West, hoisting trophy, and Khianna Anthony, express their joy after their team won the armed challenge level Saturday in the National High School Drill Team Championships at Daytona Beach, Fla. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Khianna Anthony and Christopher West began their JROTC careers four years ago at the new West Creek High School, novices in the sport of drill. They'll graduate this spring as national champions.

The Tennessee program claimed its first title Saturday, capturing the challenge level of the National High School Drill Team Championships. West Creek, winning two of the four competition categories, beat out Passiac High School, a Navy program from New Jersey.

The victory is the second major win this year for West Creek, which took the 7th Brigade championship in March. The Coyote Guard, as the team is known, finished a distant 11th in last month's Army Nationals.

Saturday's win stunned West, West Creek's co-captain, who was somewhat underwhelmed with the team's performance. After hours of practice the last couple of days and a 19-hour bus ride to Daytona, Coyote Guard members just didn't seem to be at their best inside the Ocean Center, he said.

"Imagine if we were at our best," said Anthony, the other co-captain.

In the unarmed division, the Army was kept out of the top overall spots. Barbara Jordan (Texas) High School managed a runner-up finish in the open color guard competition.

More than 1,000 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Cadets from across the country competed Saturday. The challenge level is designed for smaller, less-experienced programs.

Masters level schools, considered the sport's varsity division, take to the drill floor Sunday and Monday.

Challenge level Cadets spent countless hours readying to compete at the national meet. Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Howard, command sergeant major for U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, applauded their efforts.

"Your hard work shows," he said.

Sometimes, solid practice is no match against the intimidating aura of a drill sergeant.

West Charlotte (N.C.) High School Cadets had quizzed each other for months on current events, military history and other topics they believed they might be asked during the unarmed inspection. They continued to drill each other on the bus ride down and in the hours leading up to the event.

But when the team was summoned into the inspection room to four waiting drill sergeants, some Cadets froze up. They got fidgety, they rocked on their heels and they forget the answers to even the simplest of questions, like the name of their school's principal and identifying one thing they had learned while in JROTC.

The only response some Cadets could muster was, "This Cadet does not know."

As the Cadet commander leading the drills through the inspection, junior Jaylan Mobley could only look on in frustration. Afterward, he talked with his fellow Cadets about how the inspection is intended to jolt students psychologically.

With West Charlotte, it worked.

"If the drill asks a question, you need to have an answer," Mobley said. "Something is better than nothing. When asked about the principal, just make up a name. The drills don't know who it is."

Saturday was a learning experience for Mobley, who expects his team to return to the national meet next year. He said he'll use the inspection experience to help shape how Cadets practice, ratcheting up the intensity.

"They say practice makes perfect, but it's perfect practice that makes perfect," Mobley said. "You can practice all year and not be perfect. They knew the answers to the questions; they just couldn't answer them.

"It's OK to make mistakes. Just don't make the same mistakes."

Dwelling on a mistake can wreak havoc long after one is made.

After Danielle Lanier incorrectly ordered her Everglades (Fla.) High School team to left shoulder arms during regulation drill when the routine called for right shoulder arms, causing Cadets to have their rifles resting on different shoulders, she knew immediately she slipped up. Her eyes welled as the team marched off the drill floor.

Knowing Everglades had three other events in which to compete, she wiped away the tears from her face, apologized for her mistake and moved on.

"If we think about the previous event, it'll throw off our focus," the senior Cadet said. "You just have to forget about it and carry on if you want to get trophies."

Page last updated Sat May 4th, 2013 at 22:26