Lee County JROTC Drill Competition displays best of best

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This past Saturday, JROTC teams from 14 Lee County high schools and two Lee County middle schools converged on the football field at Mariner High School to compete in the annual Lee County School District JROTC Drill and Color Guard Competition.

Cadets in this year's event competed in 19 different individual and team events in male, female, and mixed categories. The top two finishers in each event earned a spot in the 2016-2017 state finals.

The events consisted of a variety of skills including; color guard, armed and unarmed squad drills, and exhibition drills. From individuals to teams, the over 400 students who participated in the six-hour competition displayed months of hard work, training, and near perfect precision while leaving it all on the field in hopes of moving on to the state competition which will be held April 1 in Lakeland.

Host school Mariner High School dominated the day winning nine of the fifteen events that were awarded winners and will join seven other Lee County high schools who also earned their seats on the trip to Lakeland.

While the opportunity to move on to the state finals was the primary focus for those participating in the event, Lee County School District JROTC Operations Sgt. Major John Humphries says the competition, while intense, is far beyond simply winning, "These kids are trying to get that spot to compete at the next level. It gives them bragging rights over everyone else. But, it is really about teamwork, the competitive spirit, and the challenge."

As the cadets ran through their drills in front of the watchful eyes of the instructors who served as judges, dozens of family members sat silently watching until the final move of the drill was complete, then their emotions took over erupting in thunderous applause and yelling as the cadets exited the field.

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Lee County JROTC Drill & Color Guard Competition 2017


It is that passion that Lee County School District JROTC Administration and Personnel Officer Bill Zacovic says is the true lesson of the day's activities, "This is about giving every student the possibility of belonging. If they belong to a good drill team, it is another way they are motivated to stay in school. It is about staying in school, getting better grades, and graduating, and in many cases moving on to the next level."

Saturday's drill and color guard competition is just one of a number of competitions the JROTC cadets participate in each year. Many will also see action in such separate competitions held annually as; academic and leadership bowls, Raiders, marksmanship, and others.

The competitions also serve as a way to put the school district's JROTC program on display, which in recent years, has seen a significant increase in enrollment. Evidence of that growth was clearly shown on Saturday when an estimated 400 students filled the field for the drill competition.

While the number of students has increased, Humphries says so has the quality of the program leadership, "The level of expertise that is seen from the experience of instructors instilled in students has gotten much stronger," says Humphries. "Kids are getting smarter. Instructors are getting more knowledgeable in the art of coaching."

To find a good example of the more knowledgeable and experienced instructors, one need not look any further than retired U.S. Army veteran Calvin Wimbush.

Wimbush is a 33 year veteran of active and reserve duty who served stateside, and abroad with duties in Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. During his career, Wimbush held positions in military intelligence, aviation, special forces, and as a paratrooper.

Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, Wimbush brought his years of military experience and knowledge to Cape Coral High School where he serves as the school's JROTC Instructor. Wimbush was on hand for Saturday's competition to see his and his squad's hard work on display, "It has been a great ride especially being part of JROTC after retiring from military duty."

Wimbush's dedication is so strong that few know he actually resides in Orlando. During the week, Wimbush lives in his rented condominium in Southeast Cape Coral, traveling back to Orlando on the weekends to spend time with his family before returning to Cape Coral every Sunday evening to prepare for the upcoming school week.

Humphries says It is that type of dedication to the students that has allowed Lee County's JROTC program to elevate to uncharted heights. He also attributes some of the changes in the program to the advancement in technology, which the program has embraced, "Technology has become our friend. You can go on YouTube to find cool moves and study them. It can also be instructional. I may not be able to teach these kids every move but, I can show them where to get it. You can find national teams and see how they do it. It is about researching, using technology, and learning the art of how to put it all together and apply it on the field."

Students have used the internet to create unique routines that have turned the drills into something of an art form, "Many of these students choreograph their own routines which go a long way to them learning internal discipline. In turn, the students also receive performing arts credits for participating in the JROTC program," says Lee Country School District JROTC Military Property Supervisor Teresa Galgano.

As the day began to wind down and the students participated in their last events, instructors and administrators couldn’t help but boast about how Saturday's event was a showcase for not only their respective teams but, the program as a whole.

Now the focus will turn to April 1, and the upcoming state competition, where the students, teachers, and administrators, including Zacovic, are not concerned about whether they will win or lose but, rather how many trophies will make their way back to Lee County at the end of the day, "If you look at the number of trophies we have won in the past you can't help but be impressed. The proof is in the pudding. We are showing we have a premier JROTC program right here in Southwest Florida."

Winners of 2017 Lee County JROTC Drill & Color Guard Competition

Event-1st Place-2nd Place

Female Color Guard- Lehigh, Oasis #1
Male/Mixed Color Guard- East Lee County, Mariner
Female Armed Squad- Mariner, Oasis
Female Unarmed Squad- Riverdale, Ida S. Baker
Male/Mixed Unarmed Squad- Mariner, South Fort Myers #1
Female Armed Platoon- Mariner, Oasis
Female Unarmed Platoon- Ida S. Baker, Mariner
Male/Mixed Armed Platoon- South Fort Myers #2, South Fort Myers #1
Male/Mixed Unarmed Platoon- Mariner, South Fort Myers
Male/Mixed Armed Squad- Mariner #1, South Fort Myers #1
Mal/Mixed Exhibition Platoon- South Fort Myers #1, Mariner
Female Exhibition Platoon- Mariner, South Fort Myers
Male/Mixed Exhibition Squad- Mariner #1, South Fort Myers #2
Female Exhibition Squad- Mariner, South Fort Myers #3
Unarmed Squad Exhibition- Mariner, Oasis