Four Carroll County JROTC cadets made their way to the top level of their program when they landed a spot in the National Academic Bowl, though that also means they won’t be able to compete again.
Century High School’s team will be one of 32 teams to participate in the National Academic Bowl in Washington, D.C., on Friday, June 21.
Four students in JROTC, or Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps — Blake Rodgers, 17, PJ Olson, 16, Ryley Brown, 15, and Mariana Caplan, 15 — were lucky and hardworking enough to make their way into the competition.
“At first, we took level two tests and we waited for our scores,” said Rodgers, the team captain for the academic bowl. “We learned that we did not make it to the competition, but a couple weeks later, we learned a team dropped out of the competition and we were next in line to go. We were fortunate enough and scored high enough to be just almost there when the one team dropped out — we got pushed in.”
JROTC is “one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world,” according to its website.
The academic bowl is divided into three different levels; levels one and two are computer-based tests on JROTC curricula, as well as math, English and science. The top 50% move onto level two and then the top 32 teams progress to level 3.
Because they made it to nationals they will no longer be allowed to compete in the academic bowl at any level, according to Caplan, although they may mentor the competitors.
The whole team is excited about going to the academic bowl at the end of the month.
“I’m really proud of us for making it, and I’m really excited to see what the competition work is like and to meet other cadets from around the country that have also made it this far,” Caplan said.
The team ending is hard for them to face, some moreso than others.
“I think it’s going to impact me the most, I’ve been on [the team] since my freshman year,” Rodgers said. “It’s going to be a little sad not being on the team, but I’m going to serve as a coach. So I’m also looking forward to help mentor the new team that comes in. I’ll be able to give me a new taste for something I haven’t done before. Haven’t been a mentor for the team yet. I’ve been the captain, but this is going to be an enjoyable experience.”
“I’m really sad that I can’t be on the team because I’m a freshman,” Brown said. This will be her first and last time competing in the academic bowl, even though she just started.
“It’s my second time being on the team,” Olson said. “I’m just proud that we made it, I think that makes it worth it. It is sad that we’re not going to get to come back, but that just means we have to try even harder once we’re there.”
“I’m sad that the team isn’t going to continue, I’ve been on it since I first entered high school,” Caplan said. “With the addition of our freshman here [Brown], it’s been the three of us for a while, and we’ve really grown as a team and I really love everyone on the team. It’s really sad that it’s kind of breaking up.”
All but one of the members plan to continue participating in ROTC in some form, such as the raider, drill or leadership teams. The raider team competes in athletic events, the drill team is a precision-based team that performs different marching commands and formations, and the leadership team is like the academic team but military specific.
Caplan plans to focus on her schoolwork and environmental projects.
“I’m actually not going to be in the program next year,” Caplan said. “I’ve done drill, raiders and the academic team my freshman and sophomore years, next year I’m not going to do any JROTC curriculars. I’m switching all my focus to SGA and my work and tutoring.”
Caplan is also the only member of the team that doesn’t attend Century High School; she attends Liberty High School. She plans to work with the county Student Government Association to get her school certified as environmentally friendly.
Each member of the team is an honor student, but ROTC is what pushed Rodgers to become a straight-A student.
“There were some Bs and Cs,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t take school as seriously, but as I got further up in the JROTC chain of command, I got my priorities straight and now I’m a straight-A student.”
Brown, Olson and Rodgers joined the team with the intent to later join the armed forces. Caplan mainly joined for the leadership aspect that the program offered.
“I wanted to learn of other community programs going on in Carroll County and different things like that,” Caplan said.
Olson and Rodgers joined with encouragement from their active-duty parents.
“So, both of my parents being military — active duty — they support JROTC very much,” Rodgers said. “Any time there’s an event, they’re always very supportive of me going and participating.”
“Both of my parents were also military,” Olson said. “So, they’re completely supportive of everything I do with the program.”
The students plan to have some fun while in Washington for the competition — they’re even leaving a day early to have time to sightsee and visit some museums.