Adairsville High School’s JROTC Raider teams kicked off their new season close to home and with a first-place finish.
The female, male and mixed teams hosted more than 400 Raiders from 12 schools at the second annual Tiger Challenge Raider Meet Sept. 12 at the high school.
In their first meet of the year, the female team took home the first-place trophy while the male and mixed teams each finished in third place overall.
“I am very proud of the effort everyone gave,” AHS’s Army instructor 1st Sgt. Jerry Queen said. “The experienced Raiders gave tremendous efforts, and the new Raiders walked away with a better understanding of what it takes to win.”
Raider is a popular athletic competition for cadets in JROTC programs across the United States. The competition is equivalent to the Army ROTC Ranger competition in college, but the events are designed to be less dangerous since JROTC focuses on citizenship, leadership and physical, mental and emotional wellness.
The 26 12-man teams that attended the event competed in a 2.2-Mile Run, Obstacle Course, One Rope Bridge (constructing, crossing and tearing down a rope bridge), 3/4-Mile Cross Country Rescue (carrying a 100-pound litter 3/4 mile through the woods), 1-mile Ruck Run (male and mixed teams carrying a 35-pound rucksack and female teams carrying a 25-pound ruck) and a Tire Flip (flipping a 400- to 500-pound tractor tire down a course and back).
Commanded by junior Ansley Leker, the female team — the reigning state and two-time national champion who lost three-time national Ultimate Raider Emily Sexauer to graduation — won all events, as well as the overall title.
“We have a new team with some growing pains that we need to work through, but I am very proud of the team’s first performance,” Leker said. “The girls now know how much harder they need to train. The high point was when the team finished the team run event, and I seen at that point the effort that everyone on the team gave. That is when you know you have teammates that are going to give 100 percent for you and their teammates.”
The male team — the reigning state champion and third-place finisher at nationals last year — won Obstacle Course and took third place in all other events except the Tire Flip.
“I think we are doing good for such a young team,” said junior Richie Lynch, the team commander. “We have a few little technical mistakes to work out, but I am very happy with the team. Finishing the Obstacle Course and being told we had the fastest time with no penalties was a big confidence boost after having problems on the two previous events.”
Led by senior Stetson McStotts, the mixed team — 7 males and 5 females — came in third place in Rope Bridge.
“Me being mixed team commander allows me to work with a variety of different skill sets, and I must say I was very impressed with the performance of my team, and I am comfortable with the dedication and determination of my team,” McStotts said. “One of the most capturing qualities of Raider meets and just being a part of the Raider program in general is the camaraderie. It never ceases to amaze me how teams push each other in the most difficult of times, both physically and mentally.”
Queen thinks his teams have a lot of potential this year.
“We lost 15 Raiders to graduation, so we are very young,” he said. “We have 12 freshmen on our teams who were in their first Raider meet, so we had some growing pains. We will grow and develop and be very competitive when state and nationals come around in November.”
He also was happy with the way the meet turned out.
“We had lots of coaches tell us it was one of the best-ran competitions that they have been a part of,” he said. “We had one of the best teams in Alabama [Grissom High School in Huntsville] drive three hours to compete in our meet.”
The teams — who practice at least four hours a week — had their second meet Sept. 19 at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens.
“This meet is the largest meet of the year other than state and nationals, so it was a good measuring stick to see where our teams stood against the best competition,” Queen said.
“We really didn’t know where we stood this year because we graduated 15 seniors. This year’s teams have 23 Raiders out of 38 that did not compete last year.”
Senior Army Instructor Maj. Dave Sexauer called the meet, which featured 69 teams from 30 schools, a “true test for our teams.”
“Over 60 teams representing the strongest Raider programs from around the state battled to see who is the best at this point in the season,” he said. “This meet has the same programs competing that typically make it to the state championships. During the meet, you could really sense the intensity and pressure teams put on each other. Mere seconds separated the top teams. Our team members definitely gained confidence in each other and how important it was to work as a team. Our Raiders believe that fast is smooth and smooth is fast. They turned in fast times, were consistent and received very few penalties. It was a great day of training as we prepare for our run to state and nationals.”
The female team took first place in Team Physical Test, Cross Country Rescue and Obstacle Course, fourth place in 2.5-Mile Run and 11th place in Rope Bridge, putting them in second place overall out of 14 female teams.
“Our female rope event did have a mistake that is uncharacteristic and cost us first overall, but we learned from it and will not make that mistake again,” Queen said.
The male Raiders came in second place in 2.5-Mile Run and Team Physical Test, third place in Rope Bridge and Obstacle Course and fifth place in Cross Country Rescue, earning them a second-place finish overall out of 33 male teams.
The mixed team — a developmental team made up of “more freshmen than ever before,” Queen said — finished fifth in Rope Bridge, eighth in Team Physical Test and Obstacle Course, ninth in Cross Country Rescue and 11th in 2.5-Mile Run for an overall finish of fifth place out of 22 teams.
“The mixed-team kids are the most dedicated kids in our program,” he said. “Their performance was a huge surprise, considering some schools only focus on a mixed [team] and use male and female teams as their developmental.”
Overall, the teams’ performances at the Cedar Shoals meet have given Queen a “great deal of optimism since I was expecting a rebuilding year.”
“After all was said and done, I feel the Adairsville female team is still the team to beat in the state and will still be a strong contender at the national competition in November,” he said.
“I also feel the male team has closed the gap on Riverside Military Academy, who is the defending national champions. Last year’s male team won the state championship and came in third at the nationals. Our goal this year is to win nationals with both male and female teams.”
The commanders all know their teams are young and inexperienced but believe they’re shaping up nicely for this season.
“We had six team members competing in their first Raider meet, which is half the team, so I think we are over that now,” Lynch said. “We have tremendous potential because all our times are where they need to be. We just need to avoid mental mistakes.”
“The team is never set in stone,” Leker said. “Every week is a competition, and if you slack off, you might lose your spot. We are a very competitive team, and I am excited to see how far we go this year.”
McStotts said last week’s competition, as well as the one yesterday in Gainesville, will show his team “where we stand.”
“Getting better is a season-long process, and us being such a young team, we improve week to week,” he said.