WASHINGTON (Army News Service) — After winning the 2017 JROTC Army Leadership Bowl and placing second in the Joint-Service Academic Bowl, cadet Nicolena Weaver displayed the competitive spirit that helped her team place among the best in the nation.
“I wanted to show everything that I’ve learned,” said Weaver, clad in her military dress uniform at the Catholic University of America on Monday. “I wanted to prove to my teachers that I’d learned everything that they taught us.”
Weaver, from Cocoa Beach High School, Florida, was among 500 cadets that participated in the annual Army Junior ROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl, held June 23-27 at CUA’s Washington, D.C. campus. The event motivates students to become enthusiastic about education while also preparing them for the ACT, SAT and other college entrance exams.
The bowl, organized by the College Options Foundation, also implements the Army academic curriculum as a foundation for future success. About 312,000 cadets take part in JRTOC programs worldwide.
“What this program does, it teaches them our Army values at a younger age,” said Cocoa Beach JROTC instructor James DesJardin. “So they know about selfless service, they know about duty, they know about integrity. They know those things they can take into their next job and be able to use those skills throughout the rest of their lives.”
The result of academic competitions like the scholastic bowls: better leaders and more educated citizens. JROTC instructors said students in the competition and in JROTC programs score better and post a higher graduation rate. The ROTC students hail from a wide range of economic, ethnic and social backgrounds.
“You see them fighting to be in competitions like this, no matter where they’re from,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher Hughes, commanding general, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky. “They’re taught that they can be better than themselves. They’re taught that it doesn’t matter what your lot in life is; seize the opportunity to improve yourself.”
Tiffany Bryant, a JROTC cadet from Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi, was recognized at the awards ceremony for winning the U.S. Army JROTC National Essay Contest.
Bryant plans to attend Duke University. In Jackson, 40 percent of residents live below the poverty level, while Mississippi ranks as the poorest state in the nation, with an average household income of around $40,000. According to a Forbes study published in February, the state ranked as the second worst in education.
Jim Wood, chief of Training and Operations at Army Junior ROTC, said many of the schools participating are in lower income communities. Many of the students participating in the bowl had never before travelled outside of their hometowns or home counties, Wood said.
“There are a lot of kids that would either be in jail or in a drug halfway house,” said Wood, who retired from the Army as a major. “The impact is tremendous.”
The impact of the program was obvious to sophomore Ivan Sontay, from Osborne High School in Marietta, Georgia. Sontay started JRTOC as a quiet freshman, but after a few months of participating in JROTC, instructor Rodney Fagan noticed a change in the cadet.
“He is incrementally and gradually gaining confidence,” Fagan said. “Now he’s speaking out, taking charge of teams and leading.”
Meanwhile, Weaver plans to study psychology at Florida State or the University of North Florida in the hopes of one day becoming a psychiatrist in the Air Force. Two of her team members also plan to pursue a military career. The competition also helps prepare the students for success as leaders in their communities, whether their career path takes them into the military, business sector or medical field, said Greta Medford, education coordinator for JROTC command.
Students participating in JROTC have the opportunity to apply themselves to their academic studies in a fun and interactive environment. Competition for the bowls begins in September, with teams competing in two online rounds. The top 24 academic and top 40 leadership teams were selected to participate at the national level in the nation’s capital.
While the JROTC program focuses on building better citizens and leaders, College Options president Terry Wilfong said JROTC cadets provide a boost for Army recruiting simply by participating in the program.
“The face of the Army is JROTC and recruiters,” Wilfong said. “There’s 480,000 JROTC kids across the nation in roughly 1,750 high schools. You don’t have that many recruiters, the face of the Army is those JROTC kids in uniform — that’s who the kids see.”
The JROTC Army Leadership Bowl started as a leadership symposium in the fall of 2005, with 128 junior Army cadets participating.
A total of 1,378 Army JROTC leadership teams participated, as well as 1,498 Army JROTC academic teams. Cadets from all services hail from more than 1,700 schools in each of the 50 states, four U.S. territories, and from Italy, South Korea, Germany and Japan.
Students in the academic bowl are challenged in English, math, science, current events and leadership. Cadets who participate in the leadership bowl are tested in hands-on, leadership-related activities, including how leadership tenets relate to historic monuments and memorials.