With rifles in hand and nervous expressions upon their faces, lines of JROTC cadets dressed in decorated uniforms marched down the halls of Daniel Boone High School in route to their next competition. More than 25 schools gathered in Gray Saturday to show off their skills at the 15th annual Invitational Drill Meet.
“It’s just a really friendly competition, although they (the schools) do hash it out a bit, but they come and compete in military drills for excellence in bearing,” said Zackary Radford, a cadet captain in the JROTC at Daniel Boone.
He and Cadet Maj. Hannah Gilliam helped to make sure everything ran smoothly during the 14 individual and team events that filled both gyms, the commons area and even Crossroads Christian Church located next door to the school. The drill meet is unique in the fact that it is ran almost entirely by Daniel Boone JROTC cadets.
“It’s nice to be able to go to someone else’s drill meet, but it gives you a sense of great accomplishment to know that you are the core of cadets who have hosted the largest meet, period, for the last 15 years,” Radford said. “ ... It’s something that we take much pride in.”
Since Daniel Boone cadets were busy running security, concessions and adding up score cards, they did not compete. Radford said it was tough to sit back while some of their rival JROTC groups from North Carolina — Asheville, R.S. Central and South Iredell— competed in top events like exhibition and platoons.
“Exhibition is one of the larger crowd drawers simply because of the awe it inspires, Radford said. “The principle behind exhibition is that you go out there with your toughest war face and you show how fast you can throw the rifle without dropping it while showing complete excellence.”
The armed and unarmed platoons also lured a large number of spectators Saturday as groups of 12 cadets followed the lead of their commanders and marched in sync around the boundaries of the Bobby Snyder Gymnasium.
“The more that you can move as one whole, instead of several different bodies, will make it look really sharp,” Radford said.
Corey Smith, a senior at R.C. Central in Rutherford, N.C., competed in the both the individual exhibition and armed platoon events at the drill meet. He’s won first place in the individual exhibition for the last two years and was keeping his fingers crossed for a third.
“You’ve got to have a lot of bearing and have to learn how to compose yourself and you have to have a lot of strength,” Smith said.
The 18-year-old also commands his JROTC in the armed platoon. He says it’s a lot of pressure to make sure a dozen of his peers stay in step, but was happy with their performance. A lot has changed for Smith since he first competed in the Daniel Boone Invitational Drill Meet three years ago.
“My freshman year I was honestly scared to death,” he said. “So over the years, I’ve talked to sergeant major and some of the upper classmen who just encouraged me to keep the tradition going at R.S. Central.”
Science Hill sophomore Ethan Hopson had similar feelings this year as he participated in the unarmed drill squad and platoon for the first time.
“I learned to do the movements by myself,” Hopson said. “It’s just doing it with so many people around you is harder because you want to make sure you’re in step and don’t mess up the person in front of you or behind you”
A separate meet was also held at Daniel Boone for smaller JROTC groups, giving them a chance to compete, even with smaller numbers.