You can tell something big is going on when you pull into the parking lot next to 23 yellow school buses. Inside there is a kind of orderly movement everywhere in the halls, and a quiet confusion in the gymnasiums and auditoriums of Corsicana High School (CHS). This is the final Junior ROTC drill team competition held once a year in Corsicana. Cadets in full dress uniforms walk in small groups, or they march smartly down the hall looking “squared away” in formation with their teammates. Parents and friends follow behind the cadets as they move from one competition venue to another.
The Corsicana ROTC cadets are the hosts of this event. Five times during the year, CHS teams travel to compete in competitions held at other high schools and at Baylor University, but this final meet is theirs to plan and carry out. Preparations begin in the first semester when invitations are sent to the ROTC programs in other schools. Final preparations are stepped up after the last away competition in March. The ROTC Commander, Colonel Pailes and Master Sergeant, Roger Hardie, oversee the drill team competition, but the student cadet officers supervise the event as part of their leadership training.
Arrangements must be made for parking buses that are bringing teams of 30 or 40 students and their parents. Attendants must be assigned to guide the visitors to the registration location. The reception desk in the cafeteria is staffed and each of the visiting team members are provided with a folder containing the day’s schedule of events and a map of the school so they can locate the gyms and auditoriums used to house the competitions. Signs are posted all over the building so cadets and parents do not get lost in the maze of hallways. Food must be prepared and scoring programs made ready. The CHS host cadets arrive at school at 6:00 a.m.; even the ones who were at home making tamales until 3:00 a.m. The parents of the cadets also arrive bringing the Mexican food they prepared along with the standard teen food such as hot dogs and hamburgers.
Cortnie Needham, the Vice Corps Commander, is in charge of scorekeeping and collecting money. Scheduling the teams is a complex business that is managed on a spreadsheet. Each school competes in one or more of the competitions held at different locations throughout the day. Scoring is recorded by computers and the high-point winners will be honored at an awards ceremony at the end of the day. Cortnie explained, “One event is the inspection for military bearing, and for complete and immaculate uniforms. Sometimes the judges ask questions, such as ‘Who is the president? or ‘Who is the secretary of defense?’ But they do not score the answer so much as the manner in which the cadets respond.”
The Precision Drill Teams perform both with and without sabers or rifles, and they are expected to respond to any of 59 commands to be performed in the proper sequence. The Exhibition Teams perform marching drills and Color Guard Teams demonstrate their ability to present colors according to military rituals. The Physical Training Teams run, do pushups, sit-ups and broad jumps. Two judges, senior Army and Air Force ROTC cadets from Baylor University, score the team performance at each event.
Corps Commander Jessica Beaman, carrying her clipboard with the event schedule and essential notes, seems to be everywhere at once. Until she was chosen to be the corps commander, Jessica was the logistics officer and in charge of the equipment used when the cadets perform in community events in Corsicana and in the out-of-town competitions. Her uncle and grandfather were both military men.
She plans to work toward certification as an occupational therapist associate next year at Navarro College. Vice Corps Commander Cortnie Needham followed her aunt into the ROTC program. She took enough college credit classes to have 23 hours behind her when she enters Navarro College in the Texas A&M program. Always around horses on her uncle’s ranch, Cortnie wants to specialize in veterinary medicine. Cortnie said, “The Corps officers are nominated by the current senior staff and Colonel Pailes makes the final choice for corps commander, vice corps commander and cadets in charge of operations and logistics.
“As seniors,” Cortnie said, “we have to model what the cadets are supposed to learn. They watch us. We are recognized by all of the students in the school when we wear our uniforms one day a week. Other students we don’t know may stop us and comment on what we are doing.” It is evident that the student cadets take pride in being recognized as members of a group that is honored in the school. They also feel pride wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force. Cortnie added, “The best part is learning discipline and respect.” When this busy day is over, she and Jessica will also enjoy the good feeling that comes from accomplishing something that is important to the students and families from 23 visiting high school teams and to their own community.
Written by Joan Kilbourne