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High school drill team sees surge in interest

Members of King George High School’s drill team get to school before the sun gets up, then practice marching in unison, pivoting in place and doing the perfect about-face.

Their early-bird strategy is paying off. The team, which is part of the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), experienced a rebirth this year, both in numbers of new members and trophies earned.

“They went from being the Bad News Bears to the last meet we went to, when they won everything,” said Doug Cantrell, assistant leader of the 30-member team.

He and coach Scott Hayward have brought renewed enthusiasm to the group, which practices at least three times a week throughout the school year.

Both men are retired military; Hayward served in the Navy, and Cantrell was a drill sergeant in the Army.

Both head to their jobs when practice ends and students go to class—and many of them stay after school for clubs or sports. Hayward works in Fredericksburg, Cantrell at the Navy base in Dahlgren.

But both say the enthusiasm of the team—half of whom are freshmen—makes it worth their while.

“They’re good kids, they’re motivated kids,” Cantrell said.

The drill team was active in years past, then lost some of its edge as interest waned. Former teacher Jennifer Healy revived the program a few years ago, and Hayward was “volun-told” to help last year, he said.

There were competitions in the past when the school barely had enough members to field a 13-person platoon, said Hayward’s son, Michael, a drill-team member for four years.

He and others are thrilled that King George has about 30 members—enough for a senior team and separate freshman team.

The younger group participated in its first competition April 27 in Herndon and won first-place overall among nine teams from Virginia and Maryland.

The King George team also picked up three other first-place awards and a third.

The senior drill team did equally well at a Maryland meet in March.

“We took home more trophies in that one meet than we did all of last season,” Michael said. “It was a feeling of accomplishment for years of hard work.”

Fernando De La Rosa, a junior, said team members have worked hard to tell younger students what they’re all about.

The team does exhibitions at basketball games and community events. And, as part of a boot camp for freshmen offered by the NJROTC program, the drill team puts on a session.

“We’re just a really cool team and people see us and want to join us,” he said.

His younger sister, Elena, leads the freshman platoon. She represents a new majority on the young team: females.

Nine of the 13 freshmen are girls. That’s compared to two senior females.

Laarni Mason likes the gender shift. She’s the drill team’s commanding officer and can chuck a rifle with the biggest of guys, her coaches said, even though she weighs only 87 pounds.

“I think it’s kind of nice to show the guys we can do it, too,” she said.

Coach Cantrell said he’s been surprised by the degree to which team members support each other. When he was a high school senior, he wouldn’t be seen with younger students.

But each Saturday the senior members had a competition, the younger members—in full uniform—cheered them from the sidelines, even though their attendance wasn’t mandatory.

At the freshman group’s debut competition, the seniors did the same.

The seniors realize the early hours can be a drag for parents, said Bryan McDermott. That’s why most of the older students pick up at least one younger one for the early practices.

“It’s a fairly tight-knit group,” he said. “We rely on each other a lot.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425