Quitting isn’t an option.
Randolph-Macon Academy Air Force Junior ROTC instructor TSgt Tina M. Laing has sought to instill this value into all of her students, but most especially in her two-time state champion drill team. The team has worked hard this year to return to Nationals, where last year they finished eighth overall and their duet team took first place, while at the same time they had the ultimate goal of defending their state championship title.
The COVID-19 pandemic took it all away. With Nationals less than two weeks away, TSgt Laing made the call that they would not be attending the event, as several members of the team suffered from asthma, type 1 diabetes, and other conditions that put them in the high risk category. Two days later, on March 12th, the R-MA administration made the decision to stop on-campus classes and transition to online classes through April 9th.
TSgt Laing galvanized her drill team into action. With only one day left on campus, she decided that her students would create videos of their performances and submit them to The Sports Network International Team (SNI), the organization that puts on the National Competition. If for no other reason than to record it and put it online, she felt they had worked hard and they were going to finish what they had started.
It wasn’t easy. The sudden announcement had stunned the students, who quickly realized that this could be the end of their school year, and for some, the end of their high school careers. Tears were flowing and several cadets couldn’t concentrate. “I’ve been here since sixth grade,” one student said to TSgt Laing, “and this is how it ends?”
Another senior who had also been at R-MA since sixth grade said, “I’m not ready. They just stole two months of my life. I’m supposed to be an adult now?”
“That was why I was pushing them to get those performances done,” TSgt Laing later explained. “It was not about the competition. It was about finishing what they started. I was not going to let them walk away without closure. This was a culmination of their R-MA tenure.”
Then the R-MA family began to show up. Faculty and staff members came into the gym and consoled students. Parents arrived and began recording the performances, while offering words of encouragement and support. Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, through a total of seven hours of practice and recording, the cadets worked their magic and delivered their performances.
“It was pure grit and determination,” said TSgt Laing. “It showed the true spirit of who we are. That’s what makes drill so special to them and to me.”
The team departed campus on March 13th still holding out hope for the opportunity to defend their state championship, and that the Nationals competition would be held virtually, but the sweeping pandemic caused both events to be cancelled completely. They could not even be held virtually, as many schools had closed for the year and the drill teams could not come back together to record their performances.
Schools across the U.S. have closed or taken their classes online as R-MA has done, but unlike the students who somberly packed their belongings and headed home, the members of the VA-091 AFJROTC Drill Team did not go quietly. Like a runner who is tripped before the finish line and drags herself across, the R-MA Drill Team refused to quit; instead, they pulled together in their darkest hour, and finished what they began. They demonstrated true determination, the deepest grit, relentless perseverance, absolute courage, incredible heart…there are many words to describe what they achieved, but at R-MA we know it as…
The Power of Rise.