Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

In the early morning hours of Nov. 4, the Leavenworth community was filled with sounds of sirens and the flashing lights of police cars as the Leavenworth Police Department escorted the Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC Raiders team back to LHS as the new JROTC Raiders National Champions, the first time the title has been won in the history of the school.

Fifty cadets, representing their team of more than 100, traveled to Molina, Ga., Nov. 2-3, to compete against 91 teams from across the country after winning three regional meets earlier in the year.

“I’m all about winning,” said retired 1st Sgt. Wayne Cogdill, LHS Raider team coach and JROTC instructor. “To me, winning is a part of life, and we’re setting these kids up for success. If we’re setting them up for success by losing, that’s not the right thing.

“We’re setting up that we’re going to work hard, we’re going to sweat, we’re going to run, we’re going to climb, we’re going to crawl, and we’re going to be the best,” he said. “At the end of the day, they called Leavenworth as the top team in the nation.”

The cadets broke up into three teams of 12 for the competition representing three divisions — male, female and coed — in five different events.

Events included a five-kilometer run; the one-rope bridge, which involved constructing a rope traverse between two trees, moving 10 cadets safely across the rope, and tearing down the bridge all while being timed; a cross-country rescue, which consisted of a 10-cadet team with rucksacks on their backs while carrying a stretcher through one- to two-miles of obstacles, including low crawls, wall climbs and balance beams; a physical team test, which included a 10-cadet team trekking through numerous individual and team agility, strength, balance and stamina tests; and a gauntlet in which a 10-cadet team carried 45-pound ruck sacks through one-mile of wooded terrain while overcoming numerous obstacles including an eight-foot wall.

“The most challenging part of it was trying to be confident in the one-rope bridge because I knew that one simple mistake could make the whole one-rope fall,” said Cadet 1st Sgt. Tate Sanders, LHS junior, who competed on the coed team.

In the end, the coed team took first in its division, the female team took third place and the male team took 11th place, but Sanders said that didn’t matter.

“We all claim the national title because we’re all one family, and we’re all one team,” Sanders said.

Mary Schwartz, LHS Raider team coach, agreed.

“It doesn’t just take that 36 (who competed) or the 12 (on the winning team). It takes all of them,” Schwartz said. “It is those kids that are out there trying to motivate those other kids to be just a little bit better.

“It’s like football. You wouldn’t just celebrate the kids that were on the field when that final touchdown is made,” she said. “You celebrate every single kid on that team.”

Before the LHS cadets were announced as the national champions, Schwartz, Cogdill and the cadets said they felt their chances were high because of the mindset they had going into it.

“The biggest thing I kept telling the team is, ‘You have to go out there and give your 100 percent,’” Schwartz said. “‘Don’t walk away from this competition knowing that you could have done a little bit better because if you leave this field of competition knowing that you could’ve done better, that’s going to stick with you for the rest of your life.’

“The success of that one day will carry with those kids,” she said. “The idea that, ‘If I just work hard and if I keep giving something my best, I can be successful,’ to me that’s more important than any amount of trophies that they win, that they carry that lesson with them for the rest of their lives.”

Cogdill said giving 100 percent is the reason the team is now national champions.

“They gave everything they had,” he said.

Coed team member Cadet Capt. Konya Halle, a senior at LHS, said she felt they had a chance in the beginning of the year.

“All the cadets that came in, I noticed that they were stronger than last year; new cadets came in with potential and immediately I started formulating really good plans for their strengths and skills,” Halle said. “We all play to each other’s strengths, build on each other’s weaknesses, and it really shows through our teamwork.”

A national title is not all the LHS JROTC Raiders had to show for their time in Georgia. The female team’s third-place finish is the highest an all-female team has scored in the school’s history. Additionally, Halle and Cadet Pvt. Joseph Purvis, a senior at LHS and member of the coed team, took first place in the Female Ultimate Raider and Male Ultimate Raider events, respectively. It is the first time in the competition’s history that both awards were received by the same school in the same year.

“I was in real disbelief at first,” Halle said. “I was very nervous at the time (of the competition), but I just remember before I ran I thought, ‘I got this. I think I’m ready for it.’ Even if I didn’t win, I would’ve been just happy trying it out and representing my school.”

This is the second consecutive year that Halle has taken the title.

Purvis credited Schwartz and Cogdill for his success.

“I feel like because of Miss Schwartz and First Sergeant’s training and all the practices we’ve done, I was really prepared with the competition,” Purvis said.

The Ultimate Raider competitions included a three-quarter mile run, then finishing the race by scaling an eight-foot wall (six-foot for females). Halle and Purvis vied for their titles with 48 competitors in their respective competitions.

With a national championship under their belts, the coaches and cadets agreed that it will continue to be an influence in the years ahead.

Schwartz said she hopes this will inspire other students to try the Raider team.

“If they at all feel like they want to do something, if they’re passionate about trying something, they should just go out and try,” Schwartz said. “Don’t live with the regret of not trying it out.”

Female team member Cadet 2nd Lt. Avery Webb, a junior at LHS, said the team is ready to go back and win again.

“I think (future Raider teams) are going to look at it and see it as a stepping stone hopefully to just keep it going,” Webb said.

Purvis said the win won’t only inspire future Raider teams but the entire school.

“It is going to encourage all the cadets that were on the team and all the students in the school,” Purvis said. “It shows that our school can go out and compete at a national level or a state level event and do really well, and other teams will know that and push themselves to work harder, too.”

Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC cadets hold a sign and cheer on their teammates during the one-rope bridge water crossing, one event of the U.S. Army JROTC Raider National Championships, Nov. 2 in Molina, Ga. Submitted photo by Tracy Rieper
Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC Cadet Gavin Kuhl gets a boost from teammates Davin Bailey and Cody Savage during the U.S. Army JROTC Raider National Championships Nov. 2 in Molina, Ga. Submitted photo by Crystal Sanders
Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC Cadet 1st Sgt. Tate Sanders competes in the U.S. Army JROTC Raider National Championships Nov. 2 in Molina, Ga. Submitted photo by Crystal Sanders

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