Army national drill meet
Cadet Joseph Toegel, of McNair Academic High School, spins his rifle during armed exhibition competition in last year's final Eastern Drill Meet in Landover, Md.

Even after three national titles and a half-dozen region championships, there has been debate whether Francis Lewis High School "truly" is Army Junior ROTC's best drill team.

And that contention continues. Until Saturday.

The first Army National Drill Team Championships will be held at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky., featuring a 55-school field from across the country, of which Francis Lewis is among the favorites.

Despite the Fresh Meadows, N.Y.-program's widespread success, no one -- including Francis Lewis's coach -- is guaranteeing victory in the inaugural meet.

"Any school can beat you on any given day if your team doesn't execute properly," retired Master Sgt. Lawrence Badia said. "I do not focus on other teams. I know if my team does what it was trained to do the rest will take care of itself."

After nearly a decade of region meets for the eastern and western halves of the country, Cadet Command decided last spring to combine the competitions to produce an undisputed champion.
The national meet -- a prelude to next month's all-serve National High School Drill Team Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla. -- will function the same way as the region meets. Armed and unarmed champions will be crowned, showcasing their skills in exhibition, inspection, regulation and color guard.

The most notable difference, organizers say, will come in the command's presence in terms of branding, informational booths and interactive displays.

"It's going to be a good one," said Leon McMullen, deputy director for Army JROTC. "It beats what we've been doing. This will be exciting."

From a competition standpoint, each of Cadet Command's seven brigades with Junior ROTC was given slots based on its number of programs. Brigades chose entries using their own competitions or other means of selection.

The fact that the Army national will include the top performers from the East and West makes the meet as strong -- and as open -- as any, said Justin Gates, competition director for Sports Network International, which runs the event.

He expects several teams from Texas, a hotbed for drill, to contend for titles. A team from Saipan also will compete.

"They might come out and kick everybody's butt," said Gates, talking about how schools might fare against teams they've never faced. "But you're not going to have that we-won-but feeling you had before" not knowing how one would place against the opposite region.

Badia, of Francis Lewis, admits his Cadets face a formidable task in winning the first Army national meet. Their focus, ultimately, is on a larger goal: Another national title.

"The Army nationals … will be super competitive," Badia said. "I truly believe that the national champion, both armed and unarmed, will come from the Army. But you never know."

Page last updated Wed March 28th, 2012 at 14:11