Outside of Wichita South High School, a crisp “ten-hut” breaks an otherwise quiet, sunny morning.
At one end of the school’s faculty parking lot are kids in Air Force blues practicing a ceremonial flag-folding. About 10 feet away, a group in Army dress greens is marching in formation.
They were among 96 teams from 17 schools in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma competing at the Air Capital Drill Meet, which South has hosted for the past 12 years.
Winning the meet doesn’t necessarily mean the winning team will earn a slot in a bigger regional or national competition. But what they will get is bragging rights and a trophy to take back to their high school.
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Nor is the meet a means to an end. It’s what happens in between meets that’s most important to retired Army Col. Bob Hester.
Hester started the drill meet 16 years ago. He also directs the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for Wichita middle and high schools.
It’s the JROTC program that matters the most to him. It aims to teach kids life skills such as discipline, and setting and attaining goals. The program is not a recruitment tool, though a portion of the program – including part of instructors’ salaries – is funded by the military. “That’s not our objective,” Hester said. “Our objective … is to make kids better citizens.”
“There are a lot of students here that I’ve known since (they were in) sixth grade,” said Hester, who spent the bulk of his Army career in field artillery. “I can see the difference it makes. That’s why I do it.”
Nicholus Cox was attending the meet as a spectator. Cox, who graduated from South last year and is a freshman in electrical engineering at Wichita State University, was one of the leaders of South’s four drill teams that competed last year in the National High School Drill Team Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla. The teams racked up four wins and a national title.
Cox said JROTC taught him interpersonal communication skills, how to set goals, and how to overcome obstacles in trying to reach those goals.
“It’s taught me how to open up and take control.”
Maria Garcia has had two daughters in JROTC at Wichita North High School. Her oldest, Felicia, was a “keep-to-herself” student before she signed up for the Leadership program at Pleasant Valley Middle School, the middle school version of JROTC. Garcia said the Leadership program and JROTC made Felicia “more outgoing” and her younger siblings saw that change. It’s why Garcia’s second-oldest child, Victoria, is now in JROTC at North and her two youngest are in Leadership at Pleasant Valley, she said.