Superintendent’s Trophy Match › 1st: Sale Creek Middle/High School › 2nd: Red Bank High School › 3rd: East Ridge High School
Individual Performance Kneeling › 1st: Amber Lawson, Red Bank › 2nd: Hyatt Green, Central High
Standing › 1st: Nolan Dosher, Sale Creek › 2nd: Kelly Chilcote, Red Bank
Prone › 1st: Tyler Reese, Red Bank › 2nd: Laura Rowland, Soddy Daisy
Overall Season Performance › 1st: East Ridge High School › 2nd: Sale Creek Middle/High School › 3rd: Red Bank High School
Nearly 50 students representing nine of Hamilton County's high schools stood in formation Saturday afternoon at Red Bank High School as they awaited the results of the 33rd annual Superintendent's Trophy Match, marking the end of the JROTC rifle team season.
One of several special teams, or extracurricular clubs, offered through the JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program, the rifle teams consist of five students competing from each school in marksmanship.
"The marksmanship program in JROTC is a marksmanship and safety program," said Col. Thomas McConnell, director of Hamilton County Schools' JROTC program. "We teach our cadets to respect a weapon, how to use a weapon safely and properly, how to clean that weapon and how to engage that weapon for targets."
On Saturday, teams were recognized for overall season performance, individual performance, as well as for how they performed at Saturday's championship competition.
Of the schools recognized for best season performance, one team — East Ridge High School — went undefeated after the season's eight matches. Sale Creek Middle/High School's team, which came in first at Saturday's competition, placed second for season performance. Red Bank High School came in third.
Rifle team members are evaluated based on their performance in three rounds, shooting at 10 targets. Each round features them firing from a different position — prone (on the ground on their stomachs), kneeling and standing. The students use airsoft rifles to shoot pellets at fixed targets.
"They learn precision, discipline and focus," said Sale Creek's rifle team coach and JROTC instructor Lt. Col. David Storey.
Students from all grades are represented, as well as both boys and girls on the district's rifle team. The top team, East Ridge, is made up of only girls.
Some rifle team members, especially from some of the county's more rural communities, have grown up around weapons and have a history of shooting. For others, including East Ridge freshman Zoey Wilson, JROTC was the first time they had ever held a rifle.
Wilson, who received a trophy for her season performance, decided to join the JROTC program with her mother's encouragement.
"Mom said it would be good for me, it's a way to be involved with the school" Wilson said. "A lot of people in our family have been in the military too."
Command Sgt. Maj. Bonza Monroe, East Ridge's instructor and rifle team coach, said that often, his girls are better shooters than his boys.
"Even when I was a drill sergeant," Monroe said, "A lot of the girls had never shot before, so they listen to everything you say because they want to learn. The boys who grew up hunting and shooting, you can't teach them anything."
Though many aspects of JROTC are identical to the actual service branches, high school JROTC participants are under no obligation to join the military after high school.
Some students consider it a first step though.
Soddy Daisy High School senior Laura Rowland has already applied to the Coast Guard Academy. Her teammate, Dacota Williams, a junior, also hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
"If you want to go into the military, it's a good place to start," Williams said.
In addition to rifle teams, the county's JROTC programs also have color guard and drill teams, academic bowl and raiders teams, which are athletic and leadership-geared competitive teams. The next Hamilton County Schools JROTC competition is the County Drill Competition at Hixson High School on Feb. 22.
In 1985, at the county's first Superintendent Trophy Match, only five schools had a JROTC program, according to McConnell. At the time, the county and city school systems were still split.
Hamilton County Schools has 10 JROTC programs — eight Army programs at Brainerd High, Central High, East Ridge High, The Howard School, Red Bank High, Sale Creek Middle/High, Sequoyah High and Soddy Daisy High, one Navy program at Ooltewah High and an Air Force program at Hixson High.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.