Braden River High JROTC drill team heads for state championships.
It was a difficult moment for Braden River High’s Benjamin French, who had just finished a third-place performance with his Armed Male Squad at the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Area 5 Regional Championships March 9 at Riverview High School in Sarasota.
French was nervous as he headed into the Individual Male Exhibition competition and his father, Jeff French, knew it.
The elder French told his son he would be fine.
And Benjamin French also could count on that important word, repeated all the time by Braden River coach Command Sgt. Maj. Alexander Figueroa.
French took that assurance into the event and produced a third-place finish, earning a spot at the Florida State Drill Competition Saturday, April 13 at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland.
French will have plenty of company at the state championships. The Pirates qualified 11 of the 14 team events contested, dominated many of the individual categories, and won their third consecutive Area 5 Regional at Riverview.
Once again, Braden River will be a major contender for a state title because of its hard work, and that team belief.
“I tell our cadets that I see them at the state championship every year,” Figueroa said. "It’s up to them where they finish."
“All of our teams have the potential to come home as a state champion. All they have to do is believe in one another, know that they belong to something greater than themselves and become all that they were created to be. I believe in them.”
After his team’s stellar performance at the Area 5 Regional, Figueroa assembled his team.
“People depend on you,” he told them. “The mission isn’t over with.”
While directing his class at Braden River, it’s obvious his students respect him both as a coach and teacher. Figueroa was talking about the upcoming state tournament when he noticed a student committing a rules transgression.
“Hey, who you texting, dude?” he asked.
“My mom,” the student replied.
After a brief exchange, the student knew better and put his phone away. His classmates laughed.
Sophomore Ayaka Quesen, a commander for her team’s female unarmed squad, was excited about that squad’s winning performance at the Area 5 Regional (two points from a perfect score) and its potential at the state championships.
Quesen’s performance is a notable improvement considering she struggled the previous year and she expected to be removed from her position as commander.
Figueroa believed in her potential.
“I learned [to] ‘pay attention,’” she said.
Many similar stories exist among the Pirates, but Figueroa is not surprised. He expects, through hard work, his students will excel. In fact, he expects all his students to qualify for the state meet.
“Once we get there, it’s up to them to figure out how they want to finish,” he said.
That belief has led Braden River to becoming a perennial power.
Figueroa said the seniors, such as Gina Pressimone, leave behind a positive legacy and the upperclassmen continue to grow and coach the new students.
“People know that when they hear Braden River, it’s big competition,” Pressimone said.