Petal’s JROTC places first in Army, second overall in state

By HASKEL BURNS,

It’s not often that any organizations experience success like the Petal High School Panther Battalion JROTC has had in the past few weeks, being named the best Army team in Mississippi and the second-best JROTC program in the state.

In mid-December, the team traveled to Brandon to take part in the Mississippi Army JROTC Drill Championships, where Petal’s cadets placed first overall in the state. Of 55 Army schools throughout the state, only 20 qualified for the state competition.

Petal’s team placed first in almost all of the 10 competition categories, winning both the Unarmed and Armed divisions to earn the first-place overall finish.

Panther Battalion then went to Jackson last week to participate in the Mississippi All-Services JROTC Drill Championship, where they competed against the top Navy, Maine and Air Force schools in the state. The Petal team finished first in one category and second in another, earning second place overall in that competition.

“It was a long road,” said Sgt. Maj. Don DuBose, Army instructor for the school’s JROTC program. “We finished second four years in a row at the Army level, so this team has worked for years to get to the level that they’re at.

“Just like with football or band (or any other program), it’s hours of dedication, after-school practice and hard work. Ninety percent of that team is seniors ready to graduate, so they’re just seeing the benefit of hard work, and that sometimes things are a process and you just have to stay at it. Sooner or later, if you keep working, you’re going to reap the benefits.”

DuBose said those two recent competitions were among the highlights of his career, as to put that much time into something and win was very rewarding for both him and the team. 

“It’s kind of like winning the Super Bowl and then having to go win the Pro Bowl,” DuBose said. “So it’s been a pretty remarkable season for the cadets.

“We kind of dominated the field on the Army side – we think we won first place in all categories but one. And then we basically had a repeat performance (in Jackson) – it came right down to the wire, and there were only a few points separating us from the Navy team that just beat us out by a point or two.”

In the two events, teams competed in marching routines, freestyle exhibitions and solo competitions.

“The marching could be a regulation routine, where they give you a series of commands where the team has to march and execute what’s given,” DuBose said. “Then in exhibition, you can freestyle and make up your own routine.

“Both of those, some are with rifles and some are without. There’s different size groups, so there will be squads or platoons. So you have spinning the rifle, marching, and color guard, where they present the colors and do specific routines.”

In addition to the group honors, Sgt. Maj. Sean Berch, who serves as Team Captain Cadet, placed first overall in the solo competition.

The team’s first-place finish in the state championship will allow them to travel in late March to Richmond, Virginia, to take part in the U.S. Army JROTC Cadet Command National Drill Championships.

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