JROTC drill teams battle for best-in-state, ticket to national competition

brantin@thestate.comDecember 6, 2013 

  • If you go

    What: State JROTC Drill Team Meet

    When: 9 a.m. Saturday and running all day

    Where: Airport High School, 1315 Boston Ave., West Columbia

    Featuring: About a dozen schools will complete. Events will move inside if it rains.

    Admission: Free

— Airport High School’s JROTC drill team is counting on a mix of precision, discipline and teamwork to propel it to national prominence again this year.

A big step along that path continues Saturday, when the school hosts the State Drill Team Meet on campus.

At stake for the Lexington 2 school is a fourth-straight state title, a significant step to this year’s National Drill Team event in Florida in May.

Drill team competitions feature 13 group and individual events – in armed and unarmed categories – and score teams in various areas of precision including rifle maneuvers and cadence counts. Each field routine generally runs anywhere from six to nine minutes.

“Not much will go unnoticed,” said Sgt. Maj. Harry Ferguson, Airport’s drill team instructor of 13 years, of Saturday’s competition, which includes about a dozen schools. “Everyone has to know what the others are doing at one time. It’s a total effort.”

To reach the state event, the schools first had to qualify at various league competitions. Brookland-Cayce, Blythewood, Lugoff-Elgin, and Camden high schools also advanced through the Midlands league, which has about 22 teams and is the largest in the state, Ferguson said.

Airport brings one of the strongest resumes into Saturday’s competition, having claimed the league title seven of the past eight years and winning the state title the past three. The team has consistently placed in the top three in the 4th Brigade Best of the Best regional championships, the next step before the national competition.

Ferguson said contest judges follow strict competitive criteria that can cost a team points for being an inch out of alignment.

“The ultimate goal is not to practice until you get it right but to practice until you can’t get it wrong,” he said.

That attitude was front and center earlier this week as Airport held one of five weekly after-school practices in preparation for the weekend meet.

“The main thing is to stay focused,” said senior Isaac Pressley, the drill team commander who led the squad through a series of routines earlier this week while having to recount some 50 commands. “There is an objective that we have to keep in mind and a standard that we have to stay on top of.”

Saturday’s meet also will include an inspection during which competitors will be quizzed on their uniform knowledge, the history of ROTC and weapons. Junior team member Terrissa Staley said that is one of her favorite aspects of competition.

“It helps me look beyond the physical to such things as integrity and our overall outlook on life as a whole,” she said.

The drill team season generally runs from late September through May.

Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.

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