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Not your typical teenage get-together

Students with crisp uniforms and smart salutes flock to River Ridge High School to participate in a Junior ROTC competition.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


photo
[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]
From left, Jessica Story, 15, Jennifer Houle, 16, and Jessica Skibenes, 17, guard rifles while their squad finishes the unarmed exhibition Saturday.
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Cadet Seaman Worthington and Cadet Petty Officer 2nd Class Howell reported for duty bright and early Saturday morning.

Dressed in crisp Navy uniforms, the two 16-year-old girls were eager to see how they would stack up against their fellow cadets in the first-ever competition among Pasco County's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps units at River Ridge High School.

"I love it," said Marilyn Howell, a junior at Mitchell High School. "It gets the adrenaline running through you."

Howell and Courtney Worthington have been friends since sixth grade. They joined J-ROTC together as sophomores and will be part of Mitchell's first graduating class. Both dream about careers in the Navy.

"I don't know how tough it's going to be," Worthington said.

Countywide, 850 kids participate in J-ROTC, making it the most popular student activity. On Saturday, they all came together to compete in armed and unarmed drills, basic facing movements, military maneuvers and color guard. The afternoon tested their physical fitness, with relay races and contests for doing pushups and situps.

Around the track and in the bleachers, groups of students prepared for the tests. Officers shouted orders, and the students responded with a march or a salute. Individual cadets practiced twirling their rifles.

"There's no reason this morning why we can't clean house," Chief Phil Fraiser told his Mitchell cadets before the events began. "You're sharp. You're smart."

Fraiser, a retired Navy chief, said the students put a lot of work into preparing for competitions, and they do so willingly.

"The nice thing about this is the instructors work hard. The kids work 10 times harder," he said.

Sgt. Bob King helps run the J-ROTC program at River Ridge and helped organize Saturday's competition. He hopes it becomes a yearly event that other schools will want to host.

Francisco Delgado, 17, a junior at Pasco High School and a chief petty officer in that school's Navy J-ROTC, said competitions are also a chance to meet new people.

He said preparing for them can be grueling but insists there's fun to go with all the work.

"It's hard but it's fun, especially when you're competing against somebody else to see who's the toughest," he said, before hustling down the bleachers to practice marching with his unit.

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