Atholton marches to victory at county JROTC Drill Competition

Students from three Howard County high schools donned their military finery over the weekend as they competed in the 2012 Howard County JROTC Drill Competition.

The event, held at Atholton High School in Columbia Saturday morning, brought together students from the JROTC programs at Atholton, Howard and Oakland Mills high schools, as they competed in armed and un-armed drills, spinning rifles, marching in step and executing their performances down to the most intricate detail.

“Everything is judged on precision movements,” said Col. James McGrory, senior Army instructor at Atholton.

The JROTC programs at Atholton and Howard are affiliated with the U.S. Army; at Oakland Mills, the JROTC program is with the U.S. Air Force.

At the end of the day, Atholton High School had won in all categories: first-year squad, unarmed inspection, platoon unarmed, platoon armed, first-year color guard, color guard, unarmed exhibition and armed exhibition.

From here, McGrory said, Atholton will go on to compete at Best of the Best regional competitions later this year, and will likely go on to the national competition.

The JROTC program at Atholton has 178 student members, McGrory said, and not all of them will go on to military service, or even ROTC when they get to college.

“They can, they don’t have to,” he said. “Most of them go to college. We have a few who enlist every year and go on to active duty. … It’s not our goal to put kids in the military, but some do join.”

The JROTC program at Atholton has existed since 1984.

“It teaches leadership,” McGrory said. “Army leadership is not just Army leadership; they can be CEOs of AT&T with the leadership we train them in. It’s universal. It’s character-building.”

There’s a trend in education, McGrory said, of character education, and JROTC has been doing that since its establishment in 1916.

Thomas Smith, a senior, and his sister, Emily, a sophomore, chose to attend Atholton rather than their local school, Reservoir High School, because Reservoir does not have a JROTC program.

“It’s different than any other class I do,” said Thomas Smith, a cadet captain. “It’s not like your traditional academic class. It’s a lot of leadership, and we learn a little bit about everything. … It’s great to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Atholton Principal Jennifer Clemens was on hand Saturday to see the competition for herself.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “JROTC provides great leaders to our school, great services to our school. It gives us the opportunity to allow students from other parts of the county to be here, and they provide a nice diversity to our student body.”

The school always has more outside applicants to the JROTC program than the program can accept, Clemens said.

One of those applicants, in addition to the Smith siblings, was Kristen Williams, a senior in charge of the unarmed exhibition squad at Atholton. Now in her fourth and final year in the program, Williams said she plans to go onto Air Force ROTC in college, and eventually join the Air Force.

During the competition, cadets in her squad circled Williams, clapping and marching.

The squad has used the same routine for three years, Williams said, and it can take awhile to learn. But everyone was in unison during the drill, and Williams said she was happy with how it turned out. She said she loved commanding the attention, and having “everyone I love surrounding me.

“This is like a family,” she said. “It helps us grow as leaders, and we all grow together. Having a leadership position by the time I was a junior, it’s a good feeling.”

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