Top high school JROTC Color Guards compete in San Jacinto

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Air Force JROTC cadets participating in the San Jacinto High School Color Guard meet Saturday, Feb. 1, hear from “General Kim,” otherwise known as school district data management coordinator Kim LoVette as they arrive to sign up for the competition. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Elite high school varsity and junior varsity JROTC color guards from 16 Inland Valley high schools, one from Nevada and another from a middle school, gathered Saturday, Feb. 1, at San Jacinto High School to compete for best team trophies and prizes.

It was all “spit and polish” from the young cadets, who were expected to perform with military color guard drills with precision. U.S. Army drill sergeants, led by retired Senior Master Sgt. Troy L. Loar, inspected the teams. If they were out of uniform, failed to react quickly to shouted orders or had a single button on their uniforms out of place, the cadets lost valuable points in the competition.

The tough regulation competition was coordinated and judged by the San Jacinto High School varsity Air Force JROTC officers and SJUSD data management coordinator, Kim LoVette, who said she liked to be called the “General,” since she comes from a military family.

In the 15-minute drills, the cadets stayed in step for an entire performance drill including the posting and retirement of the U.S. flag and state or command flag. Each movement was watched carefully and recorded for a score by their peer officers. Overseeing the competition for the high school were instructors retired Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Howard and retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rick DeMarti.

Howard and Cadet Col. Justin Hawley of San Jacinto High School Air Force JROTC called the drill teams to attention before the competition began.

Hawley presented the theme of this year’s drill team competition from American Revolutionary War U.S. Naval Cmdr. John Paul Jones, who spoke from the severely crippled USS Bonhomme Richard, instead of surrendering to a British commander of the British frigate, the Serapis, and were fighting rigging-to-rigging, said, “We have just begun to fight.”

Hawley and his cadets unfurled a replica of a hastily made American Revolutionary War-era flag by the sailors of the USS Bonhomme Richard to identify themselves in a neutral Dutch Fort after the historic battle. Hawley urged the cadets to remember Jones’ words before they began the competition.

The competition was gauged on points awarded for the initial inspection, flag and uniform regulations, posting colors, the closing sequence and retiring the colors. The best score would be 100 points. A dropped flag would mean disqualification. No drill teams dropped their flag.

The varsity San Jacinto High color guard gave an opening display as an example in the official ceremonies. Since the competition was organized and sponsored by the school’s Air Force JROTC cadets and staff, their unit did not compete against the visiting school teams.

The Bloomington High School JROTC color guard, winner of last year’s Air Force JROTC Color Guard competition at San Jacinto High, was the first team to run through the drill, hoping to retain their first place trophy last year. It went well, and their JROTC teacher and retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Carlos Aguilar was pleased with his cadets.

“They were still eight minutes late for inspection,” he said.

The competition continued into the afternoon with the six trophies and other awards presented to the winners of the competition, which will be announced at a later time, and the esteemed Esprit de Corps trophy and the Commander’s trophy.

“We are very proud to host this event,” Courtney Hall, principal of San Jacinto High School, said.

“We enjoy having parents and community members be a part of the audience during the meet,” DeMarti said. “There is no charge to attend, and we have our concession stand open to help raise additional funds for new uniforms and gloves.”

San Jacinto High’s Air Force JROTC unit was established in 2001. Their unit earned an overall assessment score of “Exceeds Standards,” the highest rating attainable during their evaluation Oct. 28, 2019, by the Headquarters Air Force JROTC under the U.S. Air Force.

Competing in the varsity and junior varsity Air Force JROTC Color Guard Competition this year were: Bloomington High School; Temecula Valley High School; Canyon Springs High School; Martin Luther King High School; Fontana High School, Esperanza High School; Kaiser High School; Rubidoux High School, Canyon Springs High School from Nevada; Arroyo Valley High School; Palm Springs High School; Crescenta Valley High School; Desert Hot Springs High School; Vista Murrieta High School; Santiago High School and Monte Vista Middle School.

For more information about the San Jacinto High Air Force JROTC program, contact Howard at (951) 654-7374 or mhoward@sanjacinto.k12.ca.us.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.