Montgomery Central wins 7th Brigade drill title
Montgomery Central Cadets celebrate their third straight 7th Brigade drill title. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

RADCLIFF, Ky. -- Against the biggest field in the sixth annual 7th Brigade Drill, Air Rifle and Academic Championships, Montgomery Central High School grabbed the biggest prize.


The Tennessee school earned its third straight overall crown and fourth in five years Sunday, beating out a record 69 programs from Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Montgomery Central edged fellow Tennessee school West Creek. Wayne Memorial (Mich.) High School took third.

"We were hoping for the win," said Cadet Casey Smith, Montgomery Central's battalion commander. "There's always a chance you won't win."

Montgomery Central proved formidable throughout the meet, finishing outside the top five in only two of the six categories that counted toward the overall crown. In all, the school amassed 285 points, with runner-up West Creek netting 274.

Points were given based on a team's finish and the number of teams in a particular event. For instance, Montgomery Central racked up 51 points for winning the female color guard competition that featured 51 teams.

Close to 1,700 Cadets competed in the meet that ran Saturday and Sunday at North Hardin and John Hardin high schools and North Park Elementary School.

Besides hosting a record number of schools -- up from 54 last year -- the meet was officially rechristened the Sgt. Maj. Paul C. Gray JROTC Invitational to honor the man who started the JROTC program 19 years ago at primary host North Hardin School. Gray recently retired due to an illness.
Lee Redmon, the meet's organizer with 7th Brigade, said the growing appeal of the event reflects Gray's passion for the sport and JROTC in general.

Redmon said the meet continues to become a destination for more and more programs because of the stiff competition and the fact that schools can vie in multiple events, unlike in similar competitions that feature only drill, air rifle or academic contests.

"This encompasses about every aspect of a program," Redmon said. "There is a lot of financial benefit to coming to a competition like this instead having to pay more to go to multiple competitions."

From the perspective of some Cadets, the chance to square off against so many of the brigade's top programs makes victory sweeter.

"We thought we had a chance to win, but we weren't cocky," Smith said. "We practice as much as every other team, and we try our hardest. We approach things as if we're going to be OK, no matter the outcome."

Saturday's action spotlighted regulation drill, inspections, air rifle and academics. Wayne Memorial topped the academic field.

In air rifle, host John Hardin won the sporter (old shooter) division. Riverdale (Tenn.) High School claimed the sporter (new shooter) title. Rockcastle County (Ky.) High School took the precision (old shooter) division.

Sunday's finale featured the flashiness of drill exhibitions that make the sport stand out.

As a solo performer, Steven Jones of Wayne Memorial, had little idea what he was going to do during his routine until just moments before he hit the floor.

Not that he was unprepared. He simply likes being spontaneous.

"I go up there, and just go with the flow," Jones said.

This time, "the flow" led Jones to begin by resting his rifle against his legs and pulling from his pant pocket a tube of hand cleanser, which he rubbed over his hands.

"You gotta stay clean," he said.

Jones spun and tossed his rifle into the air as he made his way around the drill pad. At one point, he elicited crowd participation, asking for a "motivation check" that triggered a chorus of hooahs from on-lookers.

"I just go out there and have fun," Jones said.

Many Cadets shared similar sentiments, but those like Abby Bennett approached the meet -- as she does the sport -- with a high degree of intensity.

Leading the West Creek female squad exhibition team, she said the opportunity to compete represented more than merely a chance to take home a trophy.

"We get to show the other schools what we're made of," she said. "We don't play around when it comes to this. It's not just a sport."

For several schools like West Creek, the 7th Brigade competition served as a tune-up for the Army JROTC National Meet later this month in Louisville and the national drill meet next month in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Before those is the national JROTC air rifle championship in two weeks in Anniston, Ala., where Tyler Yates, coming off an Army individual sporter title in February, will shoot for a more prestigious crown. Going against 7th Brigade colleagues this weekend gave him a chance to focus on shooting in a different environment.

But his goal, he said, goes beyond individual accolades.

"I want to bring Michigan to everybody's attention," the senior who attends the Jackson Area Career Center in Jackson, Mich., said of his home state that has been hit hard economically in recent years.

Page last updated Sun March 11th, 2012 at 18:08