One of the most common words you hear when talking to people involved in Boca Ciega High School’s JROTC drill team is “family.”
“The drill team is like a family,” says Kristin Plante, the unofficial “drill Mom” whose son Keyon Evans Jr., is in his third year on the team. “They’re really, really close knit, and they really pull for each other in a lot of different ways. It keeps them grounded in high school, and it gives them a purpose and something to do.”
JROTC stands for Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. It’s an elective course students can take in high school to learn key life skills, discipline, motivation and leadership, and prepare for college or a career in the military, says ROTC and drill team instructor Sgt. Maj. Freddie Whitehead Jr.
Of the approximately 600 Boca Ciega High School students enrolled in JROTC – over a third of the school’s population – around 50 are also part of the drill team, Whitehead says. The team practices synchronized drills with and without weapons, twirling and catching their rifles, marching in step, and performing the duties of the color guard. Members appear at sports events and local parades, and take part in local, state and national competitions, he said.
Ayzia Nero of St. Petersburg, 15, who is in her second year on the drill team, says she joined to develop her leadership skills and learn to speak in front of groups.
“It helps you stay focused in school because the instructors are there to help you with school-related things outside of ROTC,” she says. “They’re like another family.”
Plante’s son, Keyon, 16, says the most important things he’s learned from the drill team are “probably leadership and motivation.”
For him, that means “not procrastinating on homework, not giving up, and not sitting at home doing nothing.”
It also has helped him decide that he’ll probably join the Air Force after high school, and apply to have them pay for his college education, he says.
Narasipur Srinivasa, 16, who is in his second year on the team, said he would recommended it to others because it’s a good way to meet people with similar interests and learn skills needed for college.
He joined, he said, “to come out of my comfort zone and speak up and not be shy.” So far, it has worked, he says.
Drill team Capt. Terry Morton, 17, a senior, says he enjoys traveling with the team as well as being able to show off his achievements with the ribbons and medals he wears on his team uniform. And he loves the attention to detail required in the drills.
“A drill is a unique thing to do,” he says. “Just to be so precise and have everybody look sharp. It’s comforting to watch.”
Plante, the drill mom, says much of her work involves fundraising for the team, in particular, for meets such as the National High School Drill Meet in Daytona, which it can’t attend owing to the expense. The team would need around $10,000 for transportation, lodging, food, etc., for everyone to be able to attend at no cost to the students, she says.
Anyone interested in helping the team can contact Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Freddie Whitehead Jr. at (318) 278-3269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.