Linda Gary knew her Lakeside High School JROTC drill team was better than it showed last year.
After a national exhibition title in 2007, the Panthers exhibition drill team finished fourth in 2008.
"I was proud of them, but it wasn't good enough," said Gary, a retired U.S. Army sergeant major. "We wanted to come back and win the championship."
Lakeside did so, taking first in team exhibition at the national JROTC drill meet in Daytona, Fla., and finishing third overall. Lakeside's dual exhibition team of Joseph Davis and William Kenney finished second.
Evans High's JROTC team finished second behind Lakeside in team exhibition and fifth overall.
Lakeside's national title came after it won state championships for team exhibition, dual exhibition and individual.
"We were expecting to get first in exhibition," Gary said. "We placed first in state. I felt confident that we would take that first-place championship again."
Her cadets did it with a dedication that starts the second week of school, Gary said. And although the national drill meet was the culmination of the year's competition, the cadets must still practice for various exhibitions throughout the summer, including last weekend's "Thunder Over Augusta" event.
During the competition season, Gary and the cadets would stay in the same hotel or sleep over at the school the night before competing. They practice each weekday, most Saturdays and sometimes on Sunday. Depending on when the group can get together, Gary also has held evening practices, which last until midnight.
"The kids have been working extra hard this year," she said.
As a reward, the group spent four days in Daytona. Gary said cadets would visit the nearby boardwalk and area shops or take in the beach and pool during free time. Those with blemishes on their grade report stayed in the hotel's lobby, which doubled as a study hall.
In addition to the team, Lakeside entered two soloists and two duals.
Both duals teams reached the finals, which consisted of 12 teams.
Kenney and Davis took second, with the other team finishing 10th.
"Any place at nationals is awesome," Gary said.
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