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Pirates build on winning legacy

Braden River High JROTC drill team wins fourth consecutive regional title.

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After winning a fourth consecutive Area 5 Regional JROTC Drill Team Championship, Braden River High School hopes to continue its “legacy of champions” at the state competition.

Sgt. Maj. Alexander Figueroa said the team has been working since the first day of the season to make it to the state championship, which will be held April 18 at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland.

“It’s a tradition and an expectation that we go every year, so with that mindset, our focus from day one is the state championship, and that’s how we train,” Figueroa said. “Everything in between from the county championship to the regional championship, the desire to be champions is instilled in them.”

Benjamin Walmsley, a junior, said the team exceeded its expectations at the regional at Palmetto High School on March 7.

For senior Justin Feroze, who has been in JROTC for four years, a fourth consecutive regional championship is “same old, same old” because he knows their hard work pays off.

Benjamin French, a senior, said the culture of the team has changed since he started four years ago.

“When we started out, we had a culture on this team that everything was the way it was, and nothing could be changed,” French said. “Everything was sacred. Everything was the way we always did things.”

But when members including senior Nicolas Wiggington and Walmsley joined three years ago, the culture of the team changed to a mindset of constant improvement by making changes to routines every week.

Junior Clark Litteral sees potential first place winners at the state competition for several of Braden River’s drill team squads, platoons, color guard and exhibitions. He contributes the team’s success to the constant changes to improve routines. Depending on the routine, students could have about 55 commands to memorize.

“Every time we walk out of the box [at competitions], you always hear an instructor who’s been there for years saying, ‘I’ve tried to teach my kids to do the same thing that you guys do, but you always come back with something different that I just wasn’t prepared for,’” Litteral said. “That just makes you feel good on the inside knowing that you’re one step ahead of the competition at all times.”

Some keys to success for Braden River, according to team members, are its drive to push and its pride.

“If there’s one thing that really sets Braden River apart, it would be that we don’t settle,” said Gabriel French, a sophomore. “A lot of teams just go through the motions, [and] they’re happy with a top three finish. I don’t think any commander here is happy with anything but first because we know we are capable of that.”

With four regional titles, freshman Julianna Chupp said the pressure to continue the winning streak is scary but thrilling.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking because you know that you’re going to be leading sometime, and you have to keep up the legacy,” Chupp said. “But it’s exciting as well.”

Some underclassmen leaders including sophomore Elayna Andrews say they are nervous about their coming years in the program.

“I’m scared I won’t live up to the leadership that I’ve experienced throughout the years,” Andrews said. “But with JROTC, it has taught me that I am good enough, and I can do this.”

Many Braden River JROTC members consider the team a family and depend on trust and respect to be successful. Because there can be changes in membership due to students not qualifying for grades or by leaving the program, every cadet has to be prepared to step into any drill routine.

“I know as soon as we step in the box, it’s go time,” junior Ian DeSue said. “Everybody’s focused. Everybody is ready to take the crown. One person can affect the entire competition.”


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