Thursday, May 2, 2019
Fresh off of their eighth-place finish at the Air Force Junior ROTC Nationals Drill Meet in March, the Randolph-Macon Academy Air Force Junior ROTC VA-091 Drill Team traveled to Atlee High School in Atlee, Virginia, for the 2019 Virginia Air Force Association JROTC State Drill Championship meet on April 27, 2019.
The Yellow Jackets went in with confidence. They had taken eighth place overall while competing in just one division of Nationals (the unarmed division), and they knew their armed drill performances were just as good, if not better. However, they also knew they had to bring their best performance, as the competition would be stiff, and the expectations, both at home and at the drill meet, were high.
Nate Chichester ‘19 said he could feel the challenge in the air from the other teams. “But quite honestly,” he added, “I felt more of a connection to them this year than last year and we didn't feel as cocky about winning as it might have seemed to them. The air in the auditorium this year definitely felt heavier than last year.”
“Going in last year, people from other units would be walking around looking at our RMA patches and they'd ask, ‘What does RMA stand for?’" Gabriel Rivera noted. “This year, we would walk around and hear, "There's RMA." We went from an unnoticed team to the team to beat. This definitely added pressure on us to perform and defend our title. But the team handled it well and rose to the occasion.”
They certainly did. The Armed Exhibition Team and Color Guard Team both took first place. Armed Regulation took second and Inspection came in third. Unarmed Exhibition claimed fourth, and Unarmed Regulation took fifth. Overall, the Yellow Jackets placed first once again, giving them back-to-back State Championship titles!
Gabe said that the Unarmed Exhibition team faced some struggles, and he was thrilled with the fourth-place award. “We battled throughout the year in building our routine,” he said. “We had internal issues halfway in, but were able to set aside our differences and wow the judges right off the bat. Judges were still talking about our routine two hours after we had performed.”
Citlaly Sosa ‘20 was also part of the Unarmed Exhibition Team, as well as the Commander of the Inspection Team and a member of the the Unarmed Regulation Team. “You could feel the tension in the bus all the way until we were called up for our first event. I could never forget how fast the room became silent once we (Unarmed Exhibition) stepped onto the drill floor. There was a point where I overheard students and other coaches talk about ‘this R-MA school who stopped the crowd.’ I am proud to be a Yellow Jacket!”
It seems as if there is always a side story or a unique circumstance whenever the R-MA Drill Team competes successfully at a major competition, and this year is no different. When she started working with the R-MA Drill Team Head Coach TSgt Tina Laing, USAF, Retired, dreamed of instilling a deep sense of camaraderie into her team, one that would make them a family with each other, and give them a sense of connection to all of Air Force Junior ROTC.
TSgt Laing was able to demonstrate that very virtue for her cadets when two young ladies from Chantilly High School came to the R-MA Yellow Jacket Drill Meet Invitational in October, and she spent some time encouraging them.
“After our team won the Nationals duet championship,” TSgt Laing said, “these two ladies emailed me, saying I inspired them and they asked for me to help coach them in a duet routine. With the permission of their coach, I mentored and made recommendations. As a result, these two ladies started their team’s first-ever Armed and Unarmed Exhibition teams, as well as a duet, and even beat us in one of those categories.”
The duo from Chantilly and R-MA’s National Championship duet of Rana Diallo and Gabe Rivera both performed their duet routines during the competition, and officially petitioned for it to be recognized as a new category for the competition in 2020.
But with Chantilly competing (last year their lack of exhibition teams kept them from qualifying, according to Laing), R-MA found themselves seriously concerned about their ability to defend the championship title. The competition between Chantilly and R-MA for the top spot was intense.
When Randolph-Macon Academy was announced, the Yellow Jackets immediately launched into their now-familiar “Don’t mess!” cheer. “It still feels surreal to sweep States a second time,” Nate commented later.
Despite their own joy, the Yellow Jackets put down their trophies and went to congratulate Chantilly, the runner-up JROTC unit, on a hard-fought battle.
For Gabe Rivera, who came to R-MA from Chantilly High School, there is a friendly competition between the two schools that has been amazing to experience. “Over time, we built a bridge between our two schools and all the competitions we participated in together. We learn from these other schools and they learn from us,” he said.
“I’m proud of my team, of showing them sportsmanlike conduct and the meaning of being a family and never leaving one behind,” said TSgt Laing. “We are an AFJROTC Family, and today they spread the R-MA Yellow-Jackets family love to our Chantilly High sibling unit. Who knew how powerful the drill pad can be and the many life lessons one can learn: leadership, followership, commitment, dedication, teamwork, perseverance, camaraderie, quitting isn’t an option and ... family! I’m so proud of them.”