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Ripon JROTC bound for nationals

Indians nearly sweep regional competition

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Ripon JROTC bound for nationals

Ripon JROTC inspection team’s Josilyn Wheeler does what it takes to help fellow cadet Katelyn Phillips with her dress shoe as Owen Warren looks on prior to Saturday’s competition.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED March 5, 2013 1:43 a.m.

For months, the Ripon JROTC program has been practicing and rehearsing with two objectives in mind.

On Saturday, Ripon’s performance teams trimmed that last to one.

The Big One.

Ripon JROTC is headed back to the United States JROTC National Drill Championships for a second straight year after nearly sweeping the regional championship this past weekend.

The national championship is April 6 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ripon took first place in three of four categories during Saturday’s Area 5 Drill Championships at Ripon High School. Four teams entered the national qualifier, but only three showed: Ripon, Lathrop and Fresno.

It mattered little.

Ripon put on a performance worthy of its national honor, placing first in regulation, color guard and exhibition. Its inspection team finished second.

When the final scores were tallied, Ripon checked off the first of its two season-long goals.

“I’ve very proud of the fact that they’ve earned another berth to nationals,” Ripon JROTC instructor and retired Colonel Patrick Dunn said. “It’s extremely hard to defend the title, but the hardest part is to stay motivated and do all the hard work necessary.

“They stayed true to the task. In my opinion, they were a better team than they were last year.”

Indeed, Ripon will arrive in Kentucky a much different unit that burst onto the regional and national scene in 2012.

A year ago, Dunn’s kids struggled with nerves in their first-ever appearance at nationals and it showed. Only the color guard produced a top-10 performance with an eighth-place finish.

This time around, Ripon is ready to give 60 of the nation’s top JROTC programs a run.

To that end, Goal No. 2 is quite predictable.

“We want to place at nationals,” Dunn said. “We want to better than we did last year. That’s the real goal. We get another opportunity. … We get one month to fine tune.”

The trip will be funded by the U.S. Army, Dunn said, a welcomed relief for a program that has seen its budget slashed in recent years.

Instead, Ripon JROTC will continue its early morning practices and rehearsals.

As always, the trick is to stay sharp and interested because drill, as Dunn points out, can be mundane.

He and retired Sgt. Butch Perry aren’t too concerned.

In his 13 years, Dunn’s never had a hungrier bunch. Ripon JROTC has 110 students enrolled in its program.

“I’ll put it in football and track terms – you don’t want to peak too early,” Dunn said. “If you peak too soon, you won’t have enough for the championship.

“The key for us was to peak (at regionals) and then again at nationals. It’s working. They’re extremely motivated to go to nationals. They’re excited. They see Part 1 of their goals has been achieved.”

Fresno High finished second in the overall standings, while Lathrop – an up-and-coming program led by Colonel Venjie Gose – was third.

Lathrop placed second in color guard and third in exhibition, regulation and inspection.

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