For many of the 30 cadets who are members of the Smith-Cotton JROTC National High School Champion Unarmed Drill Team, four years of intense work, self-discipline and personal growth have come to fruition.
“It has been a long time since our cadets have won the National Drill Team Title,” Lt. Col. (retired) Harry Cunningham said Wednesday morning. “None of the cadets in the program has ever experienced this feeling.
“To see the look on their faces when we were awarded the title was a great experience and one we will not forget,” he added.
For Cadet Maj. Daryna Matsyokha, Cunningham’s words represented the thoughts and feelings she had as Smith-Cotton’s name was announced Saturday after the competition.
“I really couldn’t believe it and I know my mouth had to be wide open,” Matsyokha said. “It was such an amazing day and it brought warmth to my heart.
“I was so proud of my team,” she added. “All I could think about was how hard we have worked the last four years and how all of that hard work has paid off.”
Matsyokha said the members of the drill team would practice each day for a minimum of two hours.
“At the beginning of the season it seemed like we were having some difficulty combining the team when the freshmen came here to the high school,” Matsyokha said. “The younger cadets have become such an important part of our team though.
“Even if the other cadets didn’t get to compete on the drill team they helped us so much by pushing us to become better,” she added. “They were always there to encourage us and make sure everything we needed was there and in place.”
Matsyokha added one of the most important aspects of JROTC was the confidence the programs helps to instill in others.
“As a freshman I was very shy,” Matsyoka said. “I did not want to talk but instead really just wanted to go unnoticed.
“After listening to my commanders though they helped to bring me out of my shell,” she added. “I learned how to find my commander’s voice.”
As a cadet major Matsyokha said she realized she could not be too harsh or too nice in dealing with others but worked to find a balance.
“JROTC is a program that others should want to be a part of because it helps in so many ways,” Matsyokha said. “Our instructors truly do become our other parents.
“They care for and about us and our futures,” she added. “Whatever we need they will help us to get there and become.
Matsyokha said the team realized last Friday night they were actually capable of winning the event.
Friday the cadets spent a part of the day on the oceanfront where they enjoyed some down time but also took part in one final practice before the competition.
“After our practice our three commanders spoke to us and I think that talk really motivated us and focused us on what we needed to do to win and it helped us to realize that we were actually capable of doing this.
“The experience and winning are a memory that I will never forget,” Matsyokha added. “Years from now I will be able to tell my grandchildren about this.”
On the trip home, Matsyokha said she and Cadet Colo. Hollee Akers were talking and sharing the experiences of the weekend when Akers made a comment that Matsyokha said was very dear to her.
“Hollee said, ‘God waited for the right opportunity to give this to us after four years of trying,’” Matsyokha said. “I will cherish all of this in my heart forever.
“I know we are very grateful to our commanders, the administration and school, our parents and the community for their encouragement and support,” Matsyokha added. “For everyone who is a member of the program next year I just want them to know that they should never give up and always try to become better than we were.”
Sedalia School District 200 Superintendent Brad Pollitt spoke on behalf of the district when he expressed his pride for the JROTC program and all those involved.
“When I first heard they had won the championship I wasn’t really surprised,” Pollitt said. “After the program underwent a new evaluation this fall and they had the highest score of any battalion evaluated I knew they would do well.
“I have always been impressed and am continuously proud of how well the cadets represent the district and themselves,” Pollitt added. “They conduct themselves as true professionals with pride and respect as do their instructors, Lt. Col. Cumnningham, CMS (Randall) Woods and First Sgt. (Thomas) Bush and we are extremely proud of all of these young men and women and their commitment and dedication.”