By By Steve Arel, U.S. army Cadet CommandMay 5, 2012
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Army JROTC teams might not have won any overall challenge level national drill titles Saturday.
As nice as victory would have been, some Cadets saw the chance to compete at the sport's highest level as a win in itself.
"I've gotten a chance to travel and meet other Cadets," said Angel Ketring, a freshman with Taylor County (Fla.) High School. "The competition has helped me learn, and I'll know what to expect in the future."
Saturday marked the first time since 2009 that an Army team didn't win the overall championship in either the armed or unarmed categories. Evans (Ga.) High School came close, taking second in armed behind Central Crossing High School, a Navy program from Ohio.
In unarmed competition, United South (Texas) High School beat out East Aurora (Ill.) High School. The programs represent the Marine Corps and Navy, respectively.
Sixty teams from across the country, and from as far away as Guam, took part in the challenge level. The division is designed for less-experienced drill programs and kicks off the national drill meet.
Masters level competition, featuring the sport's top teams, takes place Sunday and Monday at the Ocean Center.
Command Sgt. Maj. Hershel Turner, command sergeant major for U.S. Army Cadet Command, encouraged Cadets Saturday night to set lofty life goals and not limit themselves.
He told the story of a frog that long lived in a puddle at the bottom of a well. The frog was content, hanging with friends and living life until, one day, it looked up and saw light at the top of the well.
Curious, the frog scaled the wall and leaped out. It hopped along, eventually finding a pond. It hopped farter and came to a lake. It hopped even father and came to an ocean.
"He didn't realize there was so much more to life," Turner said. "Don't be content with a drop in the bucket. There are greater things out there. You can get what you want in life. You just have to hop to the next level, and you'll get there."
That's what Cadets with Wagener-Salley (S.C.) High School are shooting for. Competing in only their third national meet, Cadets wanted to build upon their success of the last two years and eventually become national champs.
Wagener-Salley is a school of just 300 students, 65 of who are in the JROTC program. Of those, half are part of the drill team.
In the state's sizing system, where schools are listed from Class A to 6-A, some students joke that Wagener-Salley is so small, it should be considered "half-A."
Despite the school's tininess, Cadets basked in the big-time spotlight of the national meet.
"This gives us a great feeling of pride that we're the same arena" as big-time, established programs, senior Dillon Overton said. "It's not something a lot of schools can do."
Wagener-Salley Cadets dedicated the event to Chase Ray, a 2011 graduate who helped lead the push for the program to compete at the national meet. He was killed in a car accident three weeks ago.
Cadets had black bands with the white "CAR" letters attached to their left shirt pockets in his memory.
A group of Cadets, including Ray and Overton, watched a "best of" drill video a few years ago when they saw Marmion Academy of Illinois executing maneuvers in which Cadets criss-crossed each other on the drill floor with quick precision. That performance motivated Wagener-Salley Cadets to take their talents beyond their home state.
"We wanted to be that good," Overton said of Marmion. "We wanted to step our game to do that. It looked awesome. We thought, 'Let's do that.' "
Wagener-Salley, after months of practice, took ninth overall in the armed category Saturday. It did earn one trophy -- fourth place in color guard.
"Winning one trophy makes everything worth it," Overton said.