The Smith-Cotton JROTC team is set to defend its national title in the Raider Challenge Championship this weekend in Molena, Georgia.
Two JROTC teams departed Sedalia on Thursday for the competition that will see a first-of-its-kind event for S-C: One S-C team will compete in All-Service Challenge, giving the cadets the opportunity to compete with teams from all military disciplines and not solely from the Army.
“We’ve always sent two teams to the competition since we first entered in 2007,” Lt. Col. Harry Cunningham said. “This year all other branches of the military wanted to be a part of the competition.
“It will provide an opportunity for teams across the United States to compete against the finest cadets from all services,” Cunningham added. “We will be competing against nine other teams from across the United States in the All-Service Challenge and are very anxious to do so.”
The Raider Championship will see 45 teams compete with 600 cadets participating.
There are 12 members to a team, seven males and five females, and in each event, one male and one female will sit, creating the 10-member team.
“There really is a great deal of strategy involved,” Cunningham said. “You have to know where your strengths are and make adjustments on the fly to ensure the team’s success.
“Each one of these young men and women are capable of taking part in any of the events,” he added. “They have trained extremely hard and are ready for the challenge.”
The cadets began their training in August at raider camp to work on their physical conditioning and get them in shape; then the practice sessions for the competition started.
The S-C JROTC program has 225 students. Fifty tried out for the team.
“We lose some of those who try out to injuries, and some of them lose interest or simply wear out,” Cunningham said. “Those who are selected for the team are chosen based on their ability.”
Having the freshmen at the high school this year may have sparked some additional interest in the program but it has created a unique training situation for the members.
One of the competitions involves creating an 85-foot rope bridge suspended from two trees.
“We still have to go to the junior high to train,” Cunningham said. “With the high school being a new facility we simply don’t have any large, old trees we can use for practice,” he explained with a laugh.
Cunningham said this year’s S-C team is young, as many cadets on the national championship team graduated last spring.
“We have four freshmen on the team,” Cunningham said. “Our two captains, Cmdr. Marcus Boyd, is a junior and Cmdr. Luis Estrada is a senior and they have excellent leadership skills,”
For Estrada, this last Raider competition has special meaning.
“I found out a week before nationals during my sophomore year that I had made the team,” Estrada said. “Last year winning nationals was incredible and I want to experience that feeling again for myself and my teammates.”
Estrada said his parents had encouraged him to join JROTC and after hearing older student JROTC members discuss the program, he decided to join.
“My parents are the No. 1 inspiration in my life, but the JROTC program is my second,” Estrada said. “We become a family in JROTC and you bond with your teammates and the instructors.
“There is a large mental aspect to the program,” Estrada added. “No matter how tired you are you can’t stop to take a breath because events are won and lost by seconds and it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you can’t hold back.”
Estrada commented that the JROTC program has helped provide a sense of direction and goals for life beyond his graduation.
“Before I entered JROTC I simply went from day to day and I don’t think I was prepared for my future,” Estrada said. “I think I would have gotten by, but this has made me a better citizen.
“I have goals and a plan for college,” Estrada said. “This has helped me realize I need to do the right thing even when others do wrong and it has helped me see the importance of doing my best in service to others.”
Cunningham feels the same is true for the other members of the JROTC program.
“These young men and women are amazing to watch,” Cunningham said. “They never cease to amaze me because they compete in the heat and cold and the rain and in any type of circumstance.
“Their desire to win and help one other is tremendous to witness.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484