HNHS JROTC group qualifies for nationals

Huntington North High School Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps cadets volunteer their time to help the Huntington Parks Department decorate Sunken Gardens with Christmas lights after the city’s Veterans Day Parade on Saturday, Nov. 7.
Huntington North High School Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps cadets volunteer their time to help the Huntington Parks Department decorate Sunken Gardens with Christmas lights after the city’s Veterans Day Parade on Saturday, Nov. 7. Photo provided.

The Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) program at Huntington North High School (HNHS) was one of 12 schools selected in the Midwest to compete in the Raider National competition in Georgia this February.

According to Sergeant First Class (SFC, Retired) Dana Lescoe, this is “extremely rare,” as the JROTC program is in its first year at HNHS.

Raider competitions are athletic competitions held for JROTC programs. Not all of the HNHS JROTC cadets compete in Raider competitions.

“ROTC programs don’t [usually] have a Raider team or anything major like that in their first year. They don’t even start the whole process until halfway through their first year or into their second year,” Lescoe said.

Lescoe explained that, when he and Chief Warrant Officer (CW2) Bobby Blair started the program, they wanted to “go full force” with Raider competitions.

“The kids have really just shined and taken a liking to it,” Lescoe said.

Unfortunately for the JROTC students, it was decided by administrators that the students would be unable to attend the competition because it is an out-of-state competition. HNHS principal Reif Gilg noted that policies were made at the beginning of the school year to “do the best that we could do to keep all of our kids safe,” and that the schools have “had to cancel a lot of trips prior to this and cancel a lot of trips preemptively this year.”

Would the students have been approved to go, 12 members of the nearly 40 JROTC Raider competitors at HNHS would have traveled to the competition. The students would spend eight hours competing in four different Raider events. Then, competition against all of the top schools in the nation would take place.

“We’d be going against Marine Corps ROTC, Navy ROTC, Air Force ROTC . . . you compete, you receive your awards at the end of the day and then national champions are crowned,” Lescoe said. “Then, you try to get better and go back next year, or defend your crown!”

According to Blair, HNHS was within the top five of 12 schools in the seventh brigade. This accomplishment was made due to the cadets taking a first-place win during their first competition and second place in two other competitions.

“It would have been neat [to go] because schools like Marion and Hobart, they have a history of going,” Lescoe said. “A lot of times, we’re not really known for our Raider teams, we’re known more for our rifle teams. So with Marion, Hobart, Evansville and [ourselves] stepping up . . . I think we’re starting to build a name for the Raider competitions out there.”

Lescoe said that, unlike other sports that high school students can be a part of, Raider is all about the kids.

“It’s not like football, baseball, basketball, where a coach can come up with a plan and they can call plays. . . this is about kids going out and giving 100 percent on their own. Working as a team,” Lescoe said. “There’s nothing that Chief and I can do except for prepare them in practice. And these kids have earned the right to go to nationals and earned the right to say that they’re champions. And to do it in their first year is just amazing.”

Alexa Spahr, Huntington North senior, is a Raider Captain in the JROTC program. She originally joined JROTC because of her family’s history within the military and curiosity about the inner workings of the military.

“I thought it was more information based,” Spahr said. “After being in the class and experiencing it, I realized that it’s more like you actually get to do this stuff which was really exciting for me because it’s more than just learning it, it’s actually doing it.”

Spahr says that JROTC is the highlight of her day during school.

“I have a lot of time in class and I get to spend that with the kids in my class and my instructors. I also think that the instructors obviously play a huge rule in making the class fun and enjoyable for the cadet [while] giving us the information that we need,” Spahr said. “I look forward to the guidance that I know that I’m going to get.”

Spahr said that, thanks to her instructors, she was able to receive information about a local scholarship and apply for it.

“I wrote a little essay and I ended up getting it! They gave me that opportunity and it was great,” Spahr said.

Another student, sophomore Cole McCord, explains that the bond that can be gained by joining JROTC is unlike the normal bond between friends in high school.

“Usually, you’ll get a friend they’ll not always be the [most] real friend. But in JROTC, you’re always there with the people,” McCord said. “You can always be there for the people and you can always motivate each other.”

The motivation that is found amongst the cadets is the main bonding tool that McCord has observed.

“Sometimes, you don’t really see that in friends. You don’t see them motivating each other,” McCord said. “And if they do, it’s for selfish reasons. But in JROTC, you’re always pushing each other for everyone to get better.”
McCord notes that a positive but challenging part of being a cadet is the standard that students are held to.

“My freshman year, I just sat around and didn’t really do much,” McCord said. “Then sophomore came around, and I joined [the program] and they make sure you get all of your work done. You can’t slack off.”

Both students noted the volunteer opportunity that the JROTC cadets had in November 2020. The group was able to assist with the decoration and set up of Memorial Park and Sunken Gardens in Huntington, after taking part in Huntington’s Veterans Day Parade.

Principal Gilg has seen the differences that JROTC has made for Huntington North “from the minute that [it] started.”

“I feel like it has reached a segment of students that did not have something to reach out to  before,” Gilg explained. “I’ve observed them in workouts, I’ve observed them in class, and there is such positive energy. . . such a can-do kind of attitude.”

Gilg praises instructors Blair and Lescoe for their work and also praises the cadets.

“The students have done a phenomenal job of living up to very high expectations,” Gilg said. “The fact that they can’t go [to Raider nationals] should not negate at all the accomplishment that it is for them to have had this recognition.”

Lescoe announced on Friday, Jan. 8, via Facebook, that the Raider team would not be able to attend the national competition. In the post, Lescoe said that the hope for next year will include another chance to attend the competition.

The HNHS JROTC program will still have a Raider team in the spring.