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This JROTC drill is the real deal

Ripon JROTC favored to go to Army nationals

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This JROTC drill is the real deal

The Ripon High JROTC drill team practices before the start of competition earlier this month at East Union High.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED February 25, 2013 11:50 p.m.

Trophies and plaques line the walls of three classrooms along this back stretch of Ripon High School.

Through the doors of Room P13, Colonel Patrick Dunn sits at his desk finalizing the briefing packets for this weekend’s regional showdown.

Everywhere you look – game faces.

This is the Land of Drill but make no mistake, this is no drill.

The students and retired military leadership of Ripon JROTC take competition season very seriously.

“Oh, they’re feeling the pressure,” Dunn said of his cadets, “and it will intensify as its gets closer. At this point, there are no bulls—t practices; they’re focused.”

The target: A return trip to the United States Army JROTC National Drill Championships on April 6 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ripon was a surprise qualifier last year, emerging as the high-point winner from a West Coast qualifier that included state champions and Southern California’s top JROTC programs.

However, the end result was befitting a program’s first time on the biggest stage … under the brightest lights.

“The ‘wow’ factor played a role,” Dunn said of his group’s debut at nationals.

Ripon struggled with nerves and a touch of stage fright at nationals and finished middle of the pack. Ripon’s best performance came in color guard, where it finished eighth.

“This group is pretty driven,” Dunn said. “We’ve got a lot of returnees; they were young last year. The idea is to get back there and do better.”

To get there, Ripon will have to take a much different route.

Budget cuts by the U.S. Army eliminated the West Coast qualifier, Dunn said. Now teams will qualify for nationals from a regional competition.

From the Almond Capital of the World.

Ripon will host the Area 5 Drill Championships and Sport Invitational this Saturday in North Gym, beginning at 10 a.m.

Four schools from the Central Valley have entered the competition: Ripon, Lathrop, Fresno and Rio Linda.

The region stretches from Sacramento to Fresno and as far west as East Bay.

Competitors will be scored in four forms: color guard, regulation, inspection and exhibition. No team may compete with more than 25 cadets.

The judges will consist of drill sergeants from the Drill Battalion of Northern California, as well those with a cheerleading and dance background.

Lathrop is led by Colonel Venjie Gose and making its second appearance at the Area 5 championships.

Gose’s program is averaging 105 cadets per term; there are two terms in the school year (August to December and January to May).

He concedes Ripon is the school to beat this weekend, with one caveat: They’ve been looking over their shoulders at Lathrop for some time now.

“Ripon has pretty much set the standard for competitions, but we’re coming in as a close second,” Gose said.

In an area thin on competitors, Dunn welcomes the challenge.

“His program has come a long ways,” Dunn said of the 4-year-old school. “What I like about his program, his group isn’t afraid to try new stuff.”

The respect comes from a feeling of familiarity. There are parallels to the area’s top JROTC outfits.

Like Lathrop, Ripon was once “up and coming.”

Retired Sgt. Butch Perry started the program in 1998 with just 16 students.

When Dunn came aboard in 2000, and the program was elevated to JROTC status, there were 40 cadets.

Today, the program thrives with 110 students enrolled in the program – approximately 12 percent of the student body (934).

Dunn credits the surge in popularity to the advent of zero period in 2010. The extra class has allowed students in other clubs and activities an opportunity to participate in drill.

The team practices every morning at 6:45 a.m.

“We’ve seen a huge leap,” Dunn said.

With stronger numbers, Ripon has blossomed creatively. The exhibition team blossomed with the zero period and reached new heights during the Golden Bear competition in Long Beach last year.

There, Long Beach Poly took Ripon under its wing, teaching its Northern California competitors the art of step.

Ripon’s performance in exhibition at the West Coast qualifier – a surprising third – clinched its berth to nationals.

“Once we got going,” Dunn said, bouncing around his room with a step and energy all his own, “it caught on like fire.”

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