Petal ROTC wins Army MS State Drill championship

By HASKEL BURNS,

One could look pretty far and high – at all levels of competition – and still find it a little hard to find a squad that dominated the way the Petal High JROTC Panther Battalion did at the recent Army Mississippi State Drill Competition.

Out of 20 teams across Mississippi that competed in the December event, the Panther Battalion came in first overall – the second year in a row the team has taken home the title of Army Mississippi Drill State Champions.

“It’s back to back, and we’re getting rings next week,” said Sgt. Maj. Don DuBose, Army instructor for the school’s JROTC program. “The strange part is that last year was the culmination; we had all seniors, so they all graduated.

“So this team, 90 percent went from junior varsity to the varsity team, and turned around and won back to back. Hours of hard work and devotion to this team makes me very proud of them.”

The Panther Battalion competed in two main categories – one armed and one unarmed – and placed first in both categories. Out of nine events in both categories, the Panthers placed first in all but one and even placed second in that event.

The team scored 59 out of 60 possible total points, with the next closest team school scoring 29.

“That’s almost a clean sweep – that’s crazy good,” DuBose said. “With all those Army schools in the state, and to win first place in every category but one – and second in that – it was a good day.

“We were uncertain how this relatively new team would perform after losing so many seniors last year. They really stepped up and worked hard to defend this title.”

The team was coached by DuBose, with the following cadets serving as team captains: Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Kyara Osorio, Cadet Command Sergeant Major Aaron Dodd, Cadet Captain Laken Kemp, Cadet Captain Miriam Crotwell and Cadet First Sergeant Raven Graves.

“This whole team has worked so hard to get where we are now, and it really paid off,” Battalion Commander Osorio said. “Everyone contributes something to the team, and our close bonds have led us to our back-to-back state championship title.

“We couldn’t have done any of this without our coach, SGM DuBose, who always believed we could do it even when we thought we couldn’t.”

With the win at the Army Mississippi State Drill Competition, the JROTC Panther Battalion will now head to Richmond, Virginia, on March 21 to compete in the Army National Drill Competition.

“The thing we focus on is every year that we’ve gone (to the national competition), we’ve gotten progressively better,” DuBose said. “We started out in the high 30s, and you have to put that in perspective because that’s 30-something out of almost 1,800.

“Then last year we were the 25th-best school in the nation out of (approximately) 1,800 schools. So when the kids say they were only 25th, I say, ‘Guys, only 100 schools made it to that competition, and you finished 25th out of 1,800 that didn’t even get there. So that’s our goal is to go and do our best.”

DuBose said he strives to impress upon the team that talent will take you only so far, but hard work and determination usually make the difference when it comes to being successful.

“I’m very proud of this young group of people,” he said. “I push them hard and it is very rewarding for me when it is over and they see the results of putting in the hours.

“I’m very blessed and grateful to be here at Petal High School. We are supported by the school district in a tremendous way. Both (high school principal Rob) Knight and (district superintendent Matt) Dillon were there to support the cadets at this competition and have always provided what we need to make the JROTC program successful.”