Loudon High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps recently took home first place in a drill meet at Central High School in Knoxville, getting the group one step closer to winning the Knox League for the first time in three years.

On Presidents’ Day, 15 Loudon students competed against 10-12 local high schools. Activities included unarmed drills, armed drills and color guard drills, along with a rifle team shooting 10 targets in three positions. One of the 15 students was devoted solely to air rifle shooting.

“There’s 14 kids marching all at the same time, and they have to perform together in unison basically, which is really — they have to sync up with each other which is why we practice all the time,” David Dukes, LHS naval science instructor, said. “So there’s a lot of physical and mental discipline involved. No extra movement. It’s pretty demanding as far as discipline for a kid.”

Each semester JROTC participates in four drill meets in the Knox League. Dukes said students struggled in September and November, but on Feb. 19 the team was able to put weeks worth of practice together.

Getting first place in February’s Knox League drill meet didn’t just happen, Dukes said.

Students had to perform 60 drill movements in unarmed and armed activities and about 50 movements for color guard, all while being judged by military recruiters. The most recent drill meet included judges from the U.S. National Guard and the U.S. Navy, he said.

“It’s a big deal for us,” Dukes said. “We get up — they’re supposed to be here at 7 o’clock in the morning and we drill minimally three days a week. When we get close, it’s like every day. We’re two weeks out we start hammering it and kind of pick up the pace. It’s not easy. I don’t know how the kids do it to tell you the truth. It’s a lot of work.”

The final drill meet will occur in May. LHS is only two points from first-place placement behind Bearden High School. The last time LHS won the Knox League was three years ago, Dukes said.

“I think we’re all kind of nervous when we first go,” Kaylee Patterson, LHS senior, said. “(Joshua Campbell’s) one of our drill commanders and I know he worries about missing our cards, and then we go through inspection. I know that all of our cadets worry about missing their knowledge even though we all know they know it.”

“From my perspective, I feel like the hardest thing is getting a bunch of individuals to work as one unit to get through each movement,” Campbell, a senior, added.

Dukes believes students come to JROTC for camaraderie above all else.

“They want to win, but I think they like being around each other,” Dukes said. “... They feel because of all the whole work how much they put forth in this, they feel like their group is special, what they’re doing is special, and so they like each other.”

Competition plays a role in their participation, Campbell said.

“Doing our best and getting through each card, like performing the best that we could,” Campbell said. “We haven’t got first place in many drill meets, but I feel like there’s some that we deserve to because just as a unit I feel we performed to the best of our ability.”