• Members of Grissom (Ala.) High School's mixed team and Francis Lewis (N.Y.) High School huddle with each other after being named the overall winners in the in their respective divisions Sunday in the 2012 JROTC National Raider Challenge Championships in Molena, Ga. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

    Raider nationals awards

    Members of Grissom (Ala.) High School's mixed team and Francis Lewis (N.Y.) High School huddle with each other after being named the overall winners in the in their respective divisions Sunday in the 2012 JROTC National Raider Challenge Championships...

  • An exhausted Molly Bryant, of East Surry (N.C.) High School, makes her way to the finish of the Ultimate Raider event Sunday. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

    Raider nationals ultimate Raider

    An exhausted Molly Bryant, of East Surry (N.C.) High School, makes her way to the finish of the Ultimate Raider event Sunday. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

MOLENA, Ga. -- Parts of their city lay in ruin. Their senior Army instructor's home suffered significant damage. And the lack of services and need for people to regain their footing -- physically and emotionally -- kept their school closed all week.

Despite the misfortune, a devastating Hurricane Sandy couldn't keep Francis Lewis High School from the national Raider meet this weekend.

And another championship.

The Fresh Meadows, N.Y., school won its third straight female division championship Sunday, wrapping up a challenging week on a high note.

"It's a huge relief knowing all of our hard work is showing," said Jacqueline Sanchez, the team's captain. "This isn't a one-man or one-woman team. As long as we're together, we can accomplish anything."

Francis Lewis' female team won four of five competition categories (5k run, cross-country run, Gauntlet and one-rope bridge) and took third in the other (physical training test) en route to its third straight overall crown. Osborne (Ga.) High School finished second.

Francis Lewis' male team and Smith-Cotton (Mo.) High School's mixed squad, both repeat champs last year, came up short in their bids for three straight victories. Osborne claimed the male division, while Grissom (Ala.) High School topped the mixed division.

Retired Master Sgt. Peter Rompf, the Francis Lewis coach, knew exactly what cost his male team another win: a one-minute penalty assessed when a Cadet touched the tape on a low-crawl obstacle during the physical training test. Otherwise, he said, Francis Lewis could've captured two national titles.

"That's how tough the competition is, though," Rompf said. "One mistake, and it's, 'See you next year.' We'll be back."

A record 71 teams representing 44 schools from across the country took part in the two-day competition at the Gerald I. Lawhorn Scouting Base. While the meet is near its participation capacity, more teams might be added to the field next year, said Justin Gates, competition director.

While the focus of Sunday's awards ceremony was on the achievements of the Cadets, Gates gave special recognition to Francis Lewis and fellow New York program Xavier High School for making it to the competition.

"The devastation we have seen throughout the Northeast has been tremendous," he said. "For you guys to be here this weekend is almost unbelievable to me."

Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Howard spent Saturday and Sunday watching Cadets tackle the meet's various challenges. The Cadet Command command sergeant major said he was in awe of their collective drive and knack for working together as teams toward a common goal.

"I am overwhelmed with this event and what you all do," Howard said. "If it was possible, I would have had ESPN or some major network filming the past two days of what you've done here, so America can understand what this program is all about and what it's doing for our best and brightest."

After the awards ceremony, the winning teams huddled around each other, hugging and shedding tears of happiness.

Osborne's male team captain, Erik Rodriquez, was overwhelmed by the victory. In fact, despite he and his teammates spending more time training throughout the year, the win surprised him.

Rodriquez attributed the team's success to their collective heart.

"We weren't the biggest, but we wanted it the most," he said. "This is a dream come true."

After taking second overall in the female division in 2011, Grissom couldn't muster enough females to put together a team this year. So Cadets decided to team the five girls they had with five boys and enter the mixed division.

But developing the new team into a championship squad wasn't easy, said Abby Tomkovich, it's captain. They struggled initially to build chemistry and didn't perform well at meets leading up to the national competition.

The team spent recent weeks, however, focusing on working together and fixing its flaws.

"We knew we had a good chance, and we did everything we could," Tomkovich said. "We peaked at the right time. Everything fell into place."

Page last updated Sun November 4th, 2012 at 15:46