This May, the Delaware County Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Phantoms will travel to Daytona Beach to compete in a national competition.
Lieutenant Colonel Russ Anible, an advisor to the Delaware County team and senior aerospace instructor at Delaware Hayes High School, said Wednesday that the cadets will continue to practice every day after school and on Saturday mornings to prepare for the competition. Anible said practice is key to performing well at the National High School JROTC Drill Championships, which will take place on May 2.
The cadets have to keep track of many tiny details.
“They are scrutinized on every movement,” Anible said. “The slightest little twitch of a hand or foot will cost them points.”
For example, when the color guard removes the United States and Ohio flags from their bags, they must do so in perfect synchronization and without getting the sleeve caught on the flag. Then, when they are marching with the flag, they have to make sure the flags are either level with each other or make sure the United States flag is taller.
A flag height violation can cost a team five points, Anible said, which can be the difference between first and third place.
Anible said that during a drill exhibition, the team will have to perfectly execute between 40 and 50 commands for up to eight minutes and are judged on their unity and precision.
“They are always pushing themselves,” Anible said. “Not just in terms of skill, but also creativity and precision.”
Senior Master Sergeant Douglas Manley said what sets the 21-member Delaware County team apart from many other teams is its relatively small size, which forces the team to learn and master many different skills.
Manley explained that other teams may have two or three times as many members as the Delaware County team, but they all compete in the same division. He said other schools may have students only compete in one or two events and sit out for the rest of the competition; but because the Phantoms are so small, many of the cadets compete in multiple events all day.
“We are just getting better and better,” Manley said. “I think we can do the State of Ohio proud.”
Noah Woods, a senior on the team, said he practices for several hours a week on top of all the scheduled practice time, but has no regrets about his decision to join the team.
“I was doing marching band and I liked marching, but marching band wasn’t for me,” Woods said. He said he tried marching on the JROTC team and had a lot of fun. “I’ve never regretted it.”
Woods added that he won’t be nervous for the May competition until the minute he steps out onto the floor.
“It’s the biggest competition of the year, but it also has the most difficult competitors,” Woods said. He said competitions take a great deal of focus and effort, but added that he can rely on muscle memory for some of the movements because of all the practice.
Before the national competition in Florida, the Phantoms will travel to Lebanon High School in Lebanon, Ohio, to compete in their last regular competition of the season on April 1.
On March 18, the Phantoms placed sixth overall out of 20 teams at Air Force Drill Team Championships in Dayton. Anible said the inspection team took third place, outscoring all the other teams from Ohio; and took fifth place in regulation unarmed drill. The armed exhibition duet team of Woods and Eli Smith, an Olentangy student, also took third place at the competition. Smith also took sixth place in the armed exhibition solo competition.
On March 25, the Phantoms took second place overall at the Ohio Conference Meet, missing tying the first place team by a single point. The Phantoms’ color guard team; inspection team; varsity armed; junior varsity armed; junior varsity unarmed and junior varsity color guard all took first place in their categories. Smith and Woods’ exhibition duet also took first place. Anible said 250 students took part in an individual “knockout” competition, in which Olentangy Orange High School student Alayna Smith took third place and Olentangy Liberty High School student Bryan Bresky took first.
Anible said he is very proud of the team’s accomplishments and is confident in the future of the team because of the large number of younger cadets who already are performing very well.
“This my 13th year and this is by far the strongest team I’ve seen,” Anible said. “This team’s got a lot of heart.”
Anible said because the team is so small but still beating schools twice or three times their size, he has nicknamed them “the mouse that roared.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.