Savanna Hamilton snapped her heels in smooth succession when 1st Sgt. David Dibble barked commands.
Around her, more experienced Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets faltered and were forced to leave the contest – an elimination competition in which cadets follow commands – for missteps and slack posture.
So when the 14-year-old was the sole cadet left on stage, her stern faced melted into a grin.
More than 300 JROTC cadets from 15 Kansas and Oklahoma high schools competed Saturday at Wichita’s annual Air Capital Drill meet, hosted by South High School.
Hamilton, a first-year cadet in Southeast High School’s JROTC program, won the afternoon’s individual drill.
It was the last in a series of armed and unarmed drills and exhibition events scheduled during the all-day meet.
“It’s a good feeling not just for me but to know that I did it for my team as well and to keep up the reputation of Southeast,” said Hamilton, a freshman who plans to join the Army after her graduation.
“They did just an outstanding job,” Col. Robert Hester, director of JROTC and Leadership Instruction for USD 259, said of the students and teams who participated.
“The level of experience is just phenomenal. Our teams did very well,” he said.
Three Wichita high schools brought home the top overall honors at Saturday’s meet. In armed competition – where students perform with dummy rifles – Wichita South swept first place, Wichita North won second and Wichita Southeast earned third.
In unarmed competition, South earned first place, Wichita Southeast earned second and Wichita North came in third.
Southeast’s JROTC instructor, Command Sgt. Maj. Isaac Fields, said his 32 students delivered a winning performance Saturday.
He said he hopes the team will continue its records when it competes next month in the National High School Drill Team Competition, to be held April 6 in Louisville, Ky.
Southeast is the only Wichita JROTC program advancing to the national level this year. In Wichita, JROTC is an elective class offered in high schools and in 12 middle schools.
Districtwide, 2,300 students participate.
“I think the kids did exceptionally well,” Fields said. “They were motivated and they came to win, and their performances they have showed today prove they are a winning team.”