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The Central Hardin High School JROTC program’s stellar season has gathered notice, earning a trip to a national drill competition Saturday in Louisville.
After finishing third in the Sgt. Maj. Paul C. Gray JROTC Invitational Drill, Marksmanship and Academic Championships at North Hardin High School last month, Central Hardin was one of two schools from Kentucky selected to compete in the U.S. Army Cadet Command JROTC Drill Championships at the Kentucky International Convention Center this weekend.
Retired Lt. Col. Roland Haun, senior Army instructor, said the team is thrilled to step up after a strong performance in Radcliff to represent the school against tough competitors. Central Hardin will compete with schools from Alaska, California, Hawaii, Missouri, Texas, American Samoa and several other states.
Should Central Hardin place this weekend, Haun said it would be an upset on the level of the recent win by the Louisville Cardinals women’s basketball team over the No. 1 seeded Baylor Bears in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
“We are definitely a Cinderella if (placement) were to happen there,” Haun said. “You never know.”
Eschewing spring break for training, the JROTC team drilled Wednesday morning at the school in preparation for Saturday’s competition, where they will contend in color guard, platoon, exhibition and platoon inspection, Haun said.
All schools perform the same routines in most events except for exhibition, which is a free-flowing and creative competition that allows schools to put their individual flourishes on rifle throws, movements and routines, he said.
Though a fire alarm interrupted exhibition practice Wednesday, Haun loudly instructed the team to perform through the noise and maintain poise.
“We’ll keep going if there is a fire alarm there,” he said.
For assigned routines, judges consider factors including precision, rifle placement, body alignment and the speed and cadence of footwork.
During a competition last season, cadets were penalized for moving through their routine too quickly, Haun said. The deduction cost the team a win.
The program has risen to the occasion this season, placing among the top three in every competition, including larger outings in Michigan andOhio. The team has yet to taste defeat to another Kentucky school this year, Haun said.
In fact, he said, Central Hardin has defeated practically every opponent in the 7th Brigade except for West Creek High School ofClarksville, Tenn., which is competing Saturday.
“This is our last chance to outperform them this year,” he said.
Central Hardin did not rack up trophies last month at North Hardin, but Haun said the team placed high enough in every event to finish third overall.
Pulaski County High School is the only other JROTC team from Kentucky competing Saturday. More than 70 schools are scheduled to compete.
Cadet Lt. Col. Zach Kreider, a senior and battalion commander, said his main concern is making sure the team does not let emotions affect its performances by flushing the nervousness.
Cadet Capt. Joseph Higgs, a junior, said he is thankful for the opportunity to perform on such a high stage.
“I’m just happy to get the opportunity,” he said. “It’s a good stepping stone for our school.”
The cadets said they still need to work on precision and reporting because they sometimes grow tongue tied, but placement is on their minds. If they fall short, they said, there are benefits to glean and lessons to learn from the experience.
Cadet Sgt. 1st Class Destinee DeSpain, a sophomore, said the collective work ethic of those in the program cannot be discounted as they continue practice today and Friday.
“We’ve worked really hard to get to where we are,” she said. “I think we deserve everything we’ve accomplished.”
Asked what makes Central Hardin unique in its approach and execution, the cadets gave credit to their instructors for a tough love approach in training.
“Our Army instructor is not here to be our friend and he makes that clear every day in practice,” Higgs said.
Instead, Higgs said, the roles of instructor and mentor are clearly defined.
“If they don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll tell you no problem.” he said.
Kreider said he is proud of the program’s ability to outperform other Kentucky schools. In doing so, the cadets said they bring an intangible to the table.
“Our spirits,” Higgs said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.