Polytech JROTC team up to the challenge

WOODSIDE — Polytech High School seems to have unearthed a well of potential by bringing on two new JROTC instructors earlier this year. Shortly after their arrival, new instructors Lt. Col. Theo Dressler and Staff Master Sgt Shane Eaton launched a Raiders Challenge team component to the school’s JROTC program that went on immediately to score a first-place win in the state competition at Smyrna High in November.

This is despite Polytech’s JROTC never having a Raider Challenge team before.

If you ask Mr. Dressler, the potential was already there in the students, they just needed the outlet.

“After we started the program we decided to compete in the preliminaries at Dover High and Sussex Tech in October and early November,” he said.

“At Dover, we placed fifth and sixth out of 14 teams right off the bat. So we knew right away that these kids had something.”

Raiders teams are assembled to compete in physical activities like 5K runs, physical fitness tests, knot-tying relays, a litter carry contest (a simulation of carrying a 150-pound soldier off the battlefield), rope bridge events and more. Mr. Dressler also noted that leadership skills play a big role in addition to the physical activity.

“As part of building up the ROTC program, we wanted to add in activities that provide for

Some of the members of the Polytech JROTC, who won the state Raiders Challenge competition in November, are back row, on tire, from left, Eric Walls, Spencer Coleman and Holly Rembold. Front, from left, are Melissa Veliz, Caleb Kmiec, Daniel Kaminski, Takaya Harris, John Mader, Derrick Dinuova, Jonathon Whealton, Cole LaClair and Kayla Wells. (Submitted photo/Polytech High School)

leadership and teamwork training and teamwork to develop those skills,” he said.

“Yes, a Raiders team is an athletic sport, but the activities revolve around tasks done by small Raider teams during World War II, where teams would be sent out into the field to do complete missions with very little equipment — they had to get creative.”

When they built the teams, the instructors asked for volunteers from the JROTC program at the school, which has an enrollment of just under 100 students, Mr. Dressler said. They easily filled out two teams of 12 students. The teams get together and practice their various events and exercises before and after school sporadically, but they meet nearly five days per week as they near a competition date.

“They kids are out practicing at 6 a.m. and then a lot of them stay after school until 5:30 p.m.,” he said. “They work really hard to get here and often even help one another with getting rides to school. Since Polytech serves all of Kent County, we have some kids getting up at 3:30 and 4 a.m. to get here.”

The team is West Virginia this weekend, helping train three other Army JROTC units

Their dedication led them to win the state championship at Smyrna where they competed against 12 other teams. Of the events they compete in, Mr. Dressler says that the rope bridge challenge is one of the most difficult, but it’s also one the teams seem to excel at.

In the event, a group of eight Raiders must cross an imaginary stream only through the use of a rope tied to tree trunks on opposing sides.

“The judge in Smyrna said ours was the fastest time he’d every seen,” said Mr. Dressler. “Our raw time was 2:01 but we had about 40 seconds of penalties. If we wouldn’t have gotten the penalties, we’d have been in first place by more than 10 seconds.”

Members of the Polytech High JROTC Raiders Challenge team practice the rope bridge challenge, where competitors must cross an imaginary stream only through the use of a rope tied to tree trunks on opposing sides.

Because of the penalties, related to knot tying, the team was relegated to second place in that event, but they still won the competition overall. Mr. Dressler just sees this as room for improvement.

Even though the team’s state competition win is only about a month behind them, the new instructors are already looking for what’s next.

“These teams are freshmen and sophomores so we have some longevity, it’s not like in football if you have a great team and then they all leave,” he said.

“We’ve got an opportunity to do some great things. Because of our state win, we’re looking into regional and national challenges next year.”

Thrilled with the program’s newfound success, Polytech administration is claiming that they’re committed to providing the effort with whatever it needs to continue the training.

“We’re buying poles for a pole course and Delmarva Power is going to be donating labor to help us build it for the team. It’s going to be really cool when it’s done,” said Polytech Principal Ryan Fuller.

“We see the teams out there practically every morning at 6 a.m. hooting and hollering. They’ve been lighting it up, these kids are on fire.”

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com.

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