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Ripon JROTC places 8th in nationals
Members of the Ripon JROTC drill team pose in front of the Kentucky International Convention Center during the U.S. Army Cadet Command JROTC Drill Championships this past weekend. Ripon finished eighth. - photo by Photo Contributed

The Ripon High drill team arrived in Kentucky with very specific orders: To improve on a so-so performance at the 2012 nationals.


Mission accomplished.

The Ripon High JROTC program announced itself as a national player with an eighth-place showing at the U.S. Army Cadet Command JROTC Drill Championships this past weekend.

Thousands of cadets from 90 schools across the country converged on the Kentucky International Convention Center. The meet was broken up into two categories: armed and unarmed. Ripon competed in the unarmed category and was graded in four areas: inspection, regulation, color guard and exhibition.

“Overall, I’m very proud of them,” retired Col. Pat Dunn said. He and Sgt. Butch Perry have served as the program’s instructors since its inception.

“At this level of competition, to go and improve the way they did was pretty phenomenal. They improved everything. Every area, every subcategory team improved by 10 or 15 places.”

Ripon was 10th in both regulation and color guard, 13th in exhibition and 17th in inspection. Their cumulative score also placed them second in the Pacific Rim, trailing only North Torrance High of Long Beach.

North Miami Beach High School was crowned the overall champion in the unarmed category.

“An experience that I will never forget,” said color guard member Sarah Hall. “It has made me a more confident person in being a part of the color guard. I was nervous at first, but once I got on the drill pad it all went away.”

Not bad for a bleary-eyed bunch running on fumes.

Because of budgetary restraints, Ripon stayed in the barracks at Fort Knox in Louisville, about an hour and a half away from the convention center.

They rose before the sun – some as early as 4:30 a.m., Dunn said – and traveled by bus, while a vast majority of the competition stayed in a downtown hotel in Lexington.

“I learned a lot about their character,” Dunn said on Tuesday, still beaming from their time in Kentucky.

“It made it more challenging, but I was glad we did it. I’m very proud of them. They represented Ripon and this part of the United States very well.”

Chris Fisher acknowledged the lack of sleep may have affected the team’s performance, but didn’t steal from the experience.

“It was a great experience. We did well for the amount of sleep that we got and the environment that we were in,” said Fisher, the captain of the regulation and inspection teams.

Ripon was rewarded for its sacrifice, both on the drill pad and off.

Dunn and Perry scheduled a daytrip to Churchill Downs, the site of the next month’s Kentucky Derby.

“The best part of the whole trip,” Fisher said.

The cadets posed in wide-brim Derby hats and pretended to ride horses during a three-hour tour of the of the grounds.

“It was good,” Dunn said. “It helped break the tension; break up the stress of the weekend.”

Ripon will close its competition calendar this month with the Northern California Championships in Sacramento (April 20) and the Golden Bear West Coast National Drill Championships in Long Beach (April 27).

With a strong cast of juniors and a thriving program – Ripon has more than 100 students enrolled in JROTC – Dunn and Co. are already thinking about next year’s U.S. Army drill championships.

“They’ve already talked about how they want to get in the top 5,” Dunn said. “That’s a huge goal.”