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Ripon JROTC heading to nationals

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Cadet Abby Whitlock leads her squad in making a sharp right marching turn in the Abeyta-Horton Gym under the watchful eyes of Col. Pat Dunn and choreographer Ginger Isensee. Isensee began working ...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED April 3, 2013 1:28 a.m.

On Tuesday morning, well before the chime of the first school bell, retired Col. Patrick Dunn put his students through their final paces.

Even at this hour, expectation and pressure don’t sleep.

Dunn wants to see precise, sharp movements from a group of teenagers fresh off a holiday weekend.

There are no excuses this late in the season – not with a high school national championship hanging in the balance.

“We’ve been practicing since August for this opportunity,” Dunn said. “We found out in March that we earned our spot. Our No. 1 goal was to earn a repeat. Now our second goal is ‘OK, let’s do better.’ “

The final exam awaits the students of Ripon’s decorated JROTC program.

Members of the inspection, regulation, color guard and exhibition teams, along with instructors Sgt. Butch Perry and Dunn, depart for the U.S. Army Cadet Command JROTC National Drill Championships on Wednesday evening.

The event gets under way on Saturday at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

Ripon will arrive in Lexington, Kentucky, on Thursday morning. Dunn said they’ll practice on Thursday and Friday.

“They’re fired up. It’s like any other sport at the national level – you’re meeting up with people just as good as you are,” Dunn said. “So the difference-makers at these meets are who performs to the best of their ability, who doesn’t stress out and who doesn’t freak out.

“For the most part, all of these teams are equal. Everyone’s doing their homework. Now it comes down to who can give the best performance.”

To this point, Ripon has had very few equals, establishing itself as one of the premier JROTC programs in Northern California and sweeping through the regional championship.

Ripon clinched its berth with a thorough performance at the Area 5 Drill Championships in March. Ripon took first in regulation, color guard and exhibition. It was second among three other schools in inspection.

“It’s a precision sport,” Dunn said. “It’s like no other sport; maybe synchronize swimming. To do it as a team, you have to do everything precisely the same.”

Ripon is no stranger to the national championship. This is the program’s second consecutive appearance, and Dunn feels his group is better equipped to handle the spectacle of the event.

He can see it on tape.

On Sunday evening, with a remote by his side, Dunn reviewed video footage from the 2012 national championship.

At that meet, Ripon was shell shocked, overwhelmed by the volume of talent and spotlight. Only the color guard produced a noteworthy result, finishing eighth.

Dunn believes Ripon can score well in all four areas but has particularly high hopes for the exhibition unit, which has blossomed under choreographer Ginger Insensee.

“To me, they’re definitely better than they were last year,” he said. “All three are capable of a break-through performance, but the one I would hope would have that type of performance would be the exhibition team.

“They’ve stepped up their routine a lot. They’re a lot quicker and faster. There is nothing mundane about their routine. It’s change, change, change – very fast-paced.”

The Color Guard going to Kentucky includes Sarah Hall, Zach Dunn, Blake Morrow and Tyler Manning.

The unarmed regulation/inspection team members are Chris Fisher, Michael Fisher, A.J. Valadez, Hailey Perez, Kaitlyn Phillips, Daelynn Dabney, Nathaniel Gagnon, Kaitlyn Batterton, Mireya Tavizon, Aaron Hall, Owen Warren Josilyn Wheeler and Chris Thompson.

Those Ripon cadets making up the unarmed exhibition team include Kaitlyn Batterton, Grasie Franco-Correno, Daelynn Dabney, Hailey Perez, Kaitlyn Phillips, Mireya Tavizon, Asheley Hovis, Mark Mitchel, Abby Whitlock, Mireya Garcia, Francisco Martinez, Ally Capel and Addy Valeras.

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