Over the first weekend in November, Friday, Nov. 5, through Sunday, Nov. 7, 26 members of the Huntington North High School (HNHS) Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Raider teams competed in the Raider National Competiton in Molena, GA, earning national rankings for their male and female teams.
The JROTC program is still very new for HNHS – and despite only being in its second full year, this is not the first time that Raider Nationals has been a reality for the program. In 2020, HNHS was invited to attend the competition. However, due to COVID-19, students were not allowed to travel to other states for school trips.
“Last year’s team was probably stronger, and they were older,” said Sergeant First Class (SFC, Retired) Dana Lescoe. “This year we are predominantly sophomores and freshmen. So, I mean, the horizon is remarkable… but you’ve gotta start somewhere.”
This year, the HNHS Raider teams approached their competitions leading up to nationals a little differently. Rather than competing as mixed teams, they opted to go for all male and all female – which worked out well for them. A mixed team is traditionally comprised of six males and four females, and many schools with JROTC programs and Raider teams stick with that mixed group because it is easier to reach that male to female ratio. For HNHS and Lescoe, though, it made more sense to create the all-male and all-female teams.
“It’s not easy to get 12 girls and 12 boys – well I had them! So I was like, why don’t we compete for male and female?” Lescoe said. He then went on to explain that this meant that the only time they could truly compete for trophies was when the group took their trip to Missouri in September, where there are divisions for mixed teams as well as all-male and all-female.
“Once we decided… to focus on a male and a female team, things really started to come together,” Lescoe said. “Times were getting better, kids were getting faster, the emotion was really back into it.”
At the competition in Missouri, the HNHS female team earned second place overall in their division and the male team took sixth place overall – out of 20 teams.
Unfortunately, HNHS did not receive an invitation to compete in Raider Nationals in Georgia, meaning that they would be footing the bill themselves. Lescoe said that “the town really came together” and that it was thanks to help from several families and local entities that made the trip possible.
“The Bippus family… the family that runs Viking Express… parents of the students, they all just came together. It was just remarkable,” Lescoe said. “And for us to rank where we were is just… it just shows how much the kids really wanted it and deserved to go.”
The two teams traveled to Georgia on Thursday, Nov. 4, and spent Friday, Nov. 5, resting, re-charging and continuing their studies. Then, Saturday, Nov. 6, was show time. In the end, the female team finished first for their brigade by placing seventh overall in nationals, and the males earned the second-highest scores for the brigade by placing 14th overall in their division.
“It was a tough road, but we got there, and they were awesome,” Lescoe said. “The kids say that the bonding experience is the best thing that they got out of it. The bond that they built with each other… that team is crazy.”
Sophie Scheer, a 15-year-old sophomore Raider, echoes Lescoe’s sentiment.
“Going on our trip was so much fun and an amazing experience,” Scheer said. “We got to face all the challenges and fun things together as a team…on Sunday when I competed in Ultimate Raider, I was so happy to have all my friends and teams cheering me on...the whole team supporting me and telling me I could do it made me believe in myself and I did it. On the car ride back home, our girls team was jamming to music and having the time of our lives. It was an amazing first experience and definitely one for the books. (I) wouldn’t have wanted to spend it with anyone else.”
Alayna Pohler, Battalion Commander, girls team captain and senior at HNHS, stated that the trip was a “bittersweet” experience.
“This was my last competition with my team since I am a senior,” Pohler said. “Running past the finish line of my last event made my heart drop, knowing that it’s the last time that I’ll do that with them. But I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to compete these past two years and build the friendships that I have built. This team brought me a family like no other.”
Being that this was the first time that HNHS was able to compete, there were a few additional obstacles that they had to overcome – such as more difficult courses and different layouts than they were used to. For instance, the 5k race. Although this race is done at every Raider competition, the HNHS teams are used to being at an elevation of 650 feet and on flat ground for their runs. For Raider Nationals, however, the 5k course is up a mountain – and the changing elevation and altitude meant that some of the competitors struggled. Although the female team opted to walk the course to scope out the view and the other obstacles they would be facing, the male team managed to complete it in 26 minutes – even with three of their competitors being slowed down by minor injuries.
“That just showed us that, without those injuries, and now knowing the course… that’s going to be huge for us next year,” Lescoe said.
One of the main disadvantages that Huntington North Raiders have right now is that they just don’t have the right equipment or space to train.
Even with areas like the Lake Clare Fitness Park that they can practice on, there are many obstacles that are bigger, harder or simply unavailable to Huntington North’s program right now.
“It’s hard to train for something we don’t have,” Lescoe said. “These kids are very determined young kids… and now we know what to expect.”
The goal for next year’s Raider Nationals is to make the top five for both male and females. Lescoe plans to help them improve by working on cardio and to train for different altitudes, as well as to focus on gaining strength by hitting the weight room.
“I think that (training) for next year will be good… but getting those obstacles, the space… that’s the key,” Lescoe said. “I’ve had parents willing to build them, pay for them… we just need that place. That would be huge. Because how do you get good at something that you can’t practice, you know? Going over a 10-foot wall is easy if you do it everyday.”
Daneen Fusselman, a parent of HNHS sophomore Max Fusselman, encourages anyone who wants to see the videos and photos of Raider Nationals to visit the Huntington North JROTC Facebook page to get a better idea of what the students went through.
“They have to work together, problem solve on their feet, support each other when someone needs help,” Fusselman said. “I’m sure each student has grown because they pushed themselves past what they thought their limits were. This group has a mixture of all kinds of kids, from athletic to not so much… but they (all) have the grit and determination to not give up.”
Lescoe wants those who are interested in joining the JROTC program to know that, popular to contrary belief, it isn’t a military-based program.
“It has to do with after high school- becoming a better person and getting those scholarships,” Lescoe said. The class focuses on activities like team-building, activity and service to the community, and there are no requirements to join the military post graduation.