Fourteen high school Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps teams competed in the South Carolina State Drill Team Championship Dec. 1 at Airport High School.

They faced off in drill competitions for bragging rights and the chance to move on to the Best of the Best competition between seven states.

One local school, Airport High School of West Columbia, is advancing.

Fort Jackson lended support by sending in professional-league judges.

Drill sergeants and candidates of the Drill Sergeant Academy graded the events.

"It's been really good for us to have Fort Jackson," said Command Sgt. Maj. Harry Ferguson, senior Army instructor and drill team coach at Airport High School.

No one knows better how to make the students "look good at what they do," he added.

Eleven events determined the winners Saturday.

Some were "basic marching" tasks, Ferguson said. Others involved "drilling and twirling the rifles … fancy routines."

Platoon and squad exhibition events were among them.

Airport High School earned first place, and Brandys High School, of North Carolina, came in second.
Both will advance.

Blythewood High School took third. It is yet to be determined whether it will make the cut for the next level.

The drill portion of the Best of the Best round will be held Feb. 9 in Hickory, North Carolina.
The rifle portion is scheduled this weekend in Lexington, North Carolina.

There are just three rounds left: the Best of the Best, the Army Nationals, and finally, The National.
Last year, Airport took second in The National.

That round includes competitors not only from across the U.S., but also from places like Germany and Guam, Ferguson explained.

"We call that the superbowl," he added.

This year, Airport is gunning for the national championship title.

"We are seriously working hard," Ferguson said. "I think we look pretty good."

Practices and meets have been ongoing since the season's official start in August, said Maj. Darryl Kelly, greater midlands league coordinator, though Ferguson said Airport's team practices practically year-round.

Kelly said the league is beneficial because it instills good values in students.

It teaches discipline and time management; it takes a long time to put a good show together, Kelly said.

"You have your students involved," he added. "Student engagement" is the name of the game.
"(The league) is very important," Ferguson agreed.

Some JROTC members aren't able to participate in other sports.

"It gives the kids something they can be a part of … It's a pretty good Family for them," Ferguson said.

"If we don't keep them busy on the weekends, they'll find something else to do," he added.