Braden River's drill team crowns another two state champions.
Placing first at the Florida State Drill Championship often is a matter of discipline and extreme focus.
Braden River High freshman Cami Ostenson was a perfect example of that focus Saturday at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland.
Competing in the Unarmed Knockout competition, where judges eliminate the competitors until only one remains, Ostenson had no idea where she stood. Competitors stare straight ahead while they perform military movements as directed by the judges.
Hundreds of competitors from the 38 teams that competed begin the competition. One mistake and you're out.
Ostenson never flinched.
When the judges approached her, she thought it was to eliminate her from the competition. When they tapped her, she looked around the field to find out she was standing all alone. She was the champion.
"She didn't realize she had won," said Command Sgt. Major Alex Figueroa, who has coached the Pirates for six seasons. "Her friends started to congratulate her. She said, 'For what?'"
Ostenson and Pirates senior Cooper Kutt, who won the Armed Knockout competition, won state championships for Braden River, which has become one of the elite drill teams in the state under Figueroa, who has led them to 20 state titles in various divisions. The school won four state championships before Figueroa arrived.
Figueroa was thrill by his entire team, and certainly, his state champs.
"Cooper is a veteran and he knows the moves and what it takes to win," Figueroa said.
The highlight of the event for Figueroa was the final competition. He looked around and saw all his students and their families lining the field. "Some schools went home," Figueroa said. "We are the Pirate Nation. We support one another."
All the 56 Pirates who competed belong to Braden River's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Being in JROTC and on the drill team means heightened discipline, which the students all seem to like.
"It starts with self-leadership," Figueroa said. "It is an extension of what we do in the classroom. Then drill is about discipline and the desire to win and to use teamwork. We model leadership.
"They go through growing pains and get on each other's nerves, but they want to build a legacy."
While it's not easy, and perhaps not popular among all the students, to endure a healthy dose of disciple along with hard work, members of the drill team said it has been a great experience.
Pirate commanders and state champs talked about their events and why they love competing for the drill team.
Sophomore Logan Tackett, commander of the unarmed squad: "We execute routines within a certain time limit. The commander gives commands, such as left flank, right flank. It's important that everyone is on the exact pivot point."
Sophomore Madison Dylenski, commander of squad exhibition: "It's where you take rifles and spin them in synchronization. Then they judge on how you march.My team is like a little family. We all come together as one."
Sophomore Cassidy Kutt, commander of unarmed platoon: "You have 12 people in groups of four. It's a lot more stressful because there are more people. I like being a leader, being in charge. I want to go to the military."
Freshman Lydia Taylor, command of unarmed squad LET 1: "I joined because I have so many opportunities to make new friends. It's prepares you for a job."
Freshman Autumn Viney, armed squad commander: "We don't do any spinning (of the rifles). It's all how how precise you can be. It has allowed me to meet new people. I am normally shy. It takes you out of your comfort zone."
Freshman Ajanique Jones, commander of squad exhibition LET 1: "We used the taped rifles that are red and white. You can spin them, but they are heavier. And you can't be afraid to let a rifle hit you. I popped one up in the air and it crashed on my head. But you do get to show your battle scars."
Freshman Keely Krauledis, commander color guard LET 1: "It's a lot more precise than anything else. You've got four people, two flags and two rifles, and a lot of arm movements. And you are representing not only your school, but your country. This team teaches you a lot of leadership skills."
Senior Kyle Fortin, commander platoon exhibition: "You have to be precise with your spinning movements and you need more technique. We take pride in building a routine. You make it up yourself. It's artistic."
Sophomore Miguel Rodriguez, commander squad exhibition: "It's just fun to be out here, and being on a team. As a sophomore, I am a commander. That's a lot of pride, a lot of hard work."
Freshman Isaac Gomez, unarmed squad commander: "It gives me a new experience and allows me to compete multiple times."
Freshman Beck Stout, commander LET1 squad exhibition: "You get to meet a lot of new people. It's a cool, learning experience. A lot of patience goes into this."
Junior Ryan Gonzalez, commander color guard: "Every time you are carrying the colors, you are presenting the colors of the United States. It is symbolic. You have to be emotionless, and precise. There is a lot. I definitely like the leadership aspect. You can't look around, so you don't really know what everyone else is doing."
Freshman Jacob Wunderlich, commander LET1 color guard: "It gave me a different perspective. There is more of a trust given to me. Carrying the colors is a great responsibility. They trust me."
Sophomore Nathaniel Stowers, commander unarmed platoon: "You have 12 people so it doubles the chance of someone messing up. One person can make the difference in winning a state championship, or a loss. But this is like a family. We have talks, and we fix our problems."
Sophomore Nate Karan, co-commander entire team: "I have been on all the teams, but I've never been a commander. Maybe that is why they had me do this."
FORMER AND CURRENT STATE CHAMPIONS
Senior Christina Volpe: "As a sophomore we won in armed platoon, and I was on the same team as my sister (Alison) It's just really cool to be out here."
Junior Alison Volpe: "We're out here working for two hours every day for months, and it is so hot. But we all started winning trophies and then we thought, 'This makes sense.'"
Junior Nekyra Brown: "We won my freshman year. All throughout I was doubting myself. My teammates pushed me harder. I command the armed squad now."
Senior Cooper Kutt: "It's all about focus and teamwork. We won in armed squad my sophomore year, which was my first year commanding. I remember when we won, we just started freaking out."
Junior Kyle Krage: "Teamwork makes it dreamwork. I like the discipline and I want to go to West Point."
Senior Nathalia Guzman: "You build friendships and bonds, and it gives you so many more opportunities. I don't think anyone truly knows what we do. But I am proud."