'COVID Wiped Us Down But Not Out': Rebuilding Northeast High School's JROTC Drill Team
The Northeast High School cadets stand in two rows, backs ramrod straight. Senior Lesley Xolot-Rosas walks between them in his brand-new Class of 2022 hoodie. “Don’t fix yourself,” he coaxes. “Let it happen.”
Eventually, this will become second nature, but for most of the students in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, it isn’t yet.
“COVID wiped us down but not out,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Lewis, the JROTC sponsor. “We lost a lot of senior cadets during the pandemic, but we have a few who have stepped up. They’re really dedicated to making sure the program survives.”
He and Lt. Col. Richard Hilliard watch the drills from a distance, letting Lesley and fellow senior Michael Stivers lead.
“They are self-supporting,” Lewis said. “We like to tell them they’re not here for us. They’re here for each other and to support each other. While they’re winning trophies, they’re having fun meeting other cadets throughout the region.”
Even though the drill team’s first competition isn’t until February, junior Bryce Stivers is already looking forward to it. He joined JROTC his freshman year, before the pandemic, and it’s the thing he missed most during online learning.
“Being here now in-person has done a lot of good. JROTC is my escape,” Bryce said.
Bryce called COVID-19 “a wake-up call” that made him realize how soon he’ll be graduating from high school. He says while he’s considered joining the mi
litary, he’d rather pursue a career in journalism.
That’s typical, said Hilliard. Few Northeast JROTC cadets ultimately decide to enlist.
“The purpose of drill isn’t to teach you to go into the Army. It’s to teach you self-control and self-discipline,” Hilliard said. He wants students to graduate with skills that will help them no matter what they do next.
Senior Madelyn Villeda wants to study psychology at the University of Kansas. After joining the drill team last year, she asked Hilliard to help her with her organizational skills. She said she's doing much better now than she was then.
“I’m living in Hillcrest, a special situation for students who don’t have families,” Madelyn said. “In JROTC, I’m working on my leadership skills and my responsibility skills. I’m learning here how to be myself."
- Northeast High School