The Pirates earn a 13th state championship in the Raiders competition.
When the Braden River High junior ROTC Raiders team was competing in the rope bridge challenge at the state competition Nov. 13, they ran into some trouble.
Brett Brustad, a senior battalion commander, was trying to tie a rope in a knot around the tree behind a clip, but the clip was wrapped around the tree in a way that made it impossible. The team had to quickly take down the rope bridge and start again.
“I had a feeling we were probably not going to place for this event, and we might just lose states because of it,” Brustad said.
At the awards ceremony following the competition at Camp Flaming Arrows in Lake Wales, the team was surprised to hear Braden River called out as the state champion.
“We were all still in shock,” said Nathan Walmsley, a sophomore and platoon leader.
Walmsley and Reece Miller, a senior company commander, were so excited about their victory that they broke the trophy.
Winning this year’s state competition marked the 13th state title for the school’s JROTC Raiders program.
“What made this championship rewarding was five out of the 12 kids were freshmen,” said Command Sergeant Major Matt Collis, the leader of the Raiders team. “They stepped up to fill the older kids’ shoes.”
The team was feeling the pressure to get another state title as the Braden River High JROTC Raiders team has a legacy of winning. Collis said the team now has won 13 out of the 16 state competitions in which it has participated.
Brustad said continuing the team’s winning streak means they haven’t let anyone down.
“It shows that our hard work paid off,” Brustad said. “Golden Corral tastes better when we win.”
It’s tradition for the team to go to Golden Corral after the state competition.
Israel Clark, a freshman cadet, said there was pressure on the younger team members to live up to the team’s legacy.
“It was hard at first because there’s all these expectations, and you don’t want to let the team down, and you don’t want to fail,” Clark said. “As we went on, we became more like family, and we would’ve been OK with whatever place we got.”
Nathan Voner, a junior platoon sergeant, said knowing Braden River’s reputation makes them work harder.
The team said becoming state champions takes dedication, hard work, determination and not cutting corners.
“They go above and beyond doing what beasts do,” Collis said. “Everybody wants to be a beast, but not everybody wants to put in the work to become a beast.”
Miller said each member has to be mentally tough to go through the challenges.
“You’re not allowed to say, ‘I can’t,’” Miller said.
Throughout the season, some team members struggled with motivation and perseverance, especially after a year of trying to train and compete during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brustad recalled a day where he hadn’t slept much the night before, was stressed about school and simply didn’t want to go to JROTC training after school.
“I was like: ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s so hard,’” Brustad said.
He went to practice, and it wasn’t long before he felt wide awake and energized. He spent all day thinking practice would be more difficult than the reality.
For Brustad and Miller, ending their final Raiders season as state champions means they left their mark on the program.
Younger members are ready to continue on the program’s legacy next year.
Rachel Walmsley, a freshman and cadet, wants to be a four-time state champion by the time she graduates from Braden River.
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