Zion-Benton NJROTC Wins Area 3 West Regional Title for 3rd Straight Year

09 March 2020

From Scott A. Thornbloom

Zion-Benton Township High School's Navy Junior ROTC (NJROTC) unit finished first in a dominating performance at the 2020 NJROTC Area 3 West Regional Academic, Athletic and Drill Competition at Recruit Training Command (RTC) here, Feb. 29.

Zion-Benton Township High School’s Navy Junior ROTC (NJROTC) unit finished first in dominating fashion in the 2020 NJROTC Area 3 West Regional Academic, Athletic and Drill Competition at Recruit Training Command (RTC) here, Feb. 29.

Known as the “Zee-Bees”, the northern Illinois high school from Zion, Illinois, now have nine regional championships in the 17 years they have hosted the annual event at RTC. This was their third win in a row.

More than 400 cadets from 16 Navy Junior ROTC units, 13 units in and around Chicago, one unit (Harding) from St. Paul, Minnesota, and a unit from Papillion-La Vista, Nebraska, participated in the two-day event. The Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC) unit from Belleville (Michigan) High School was making their first appearance at the Area 3 West regionals.

Harding High School was the runner up followed by East Aurora (Illinois) High School. Papillion-La Vista and Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy (Chicago) High School finished out the overall top five (overall trophies were handed out to the top five units).

“This one is real sweet,” said retired U. S. Navy Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Equipment Vincent Nelson, Navy Science Instructor (NSI) at Zion-Benton Township. “It was a total team effort from the seniors to freshmen. I couldn’t be happier.”

Nelson, who is also the coach of Zion’s NJROTC Athletic Squad, said the unit has a winning culture that is cultivated in the unit and in each “Zee-Bee” cadet.

“In that culture there is accountability, responsibility and a will to win.”

The NJROTC and NNDCC are part of the Navy’s Citizenship program. They are overseen by the Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), headquartered on Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. The program seeks to instill in participating high school students the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment. NJROTC and NNDCC strive to build a strong foundation of citizenship within America’s future leaders.

“This event is a chance for the all the cadets to show the hard work they have put in during the entire school year to get here,” said retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Steve Schulte, Zion’s senior NSI and unit commanding officer.

“Their parents and their peers get to see all the time they have put in to be able to compete in the regionals. A lot of sports have their championship games and this is kind of our championship.”

Each event (8) in the Area 3 West regional competition was worth points. For example, the academic testing was worth a total of 1,000 points for each participating unit. Zion-Benton had a perfect academic score of 1,000 points to second place Freeport (Illinois) High School’s 992.37 points. Each drill event (Color Guard, Unarmed Individual Drill Routine [IDR], Unarmed Exhibition, Armed IDR, and Armed Exhibition) was worth 400 points. Zion scored five perfect “400s” in drill events. The personnel inspection was worth 1,500 points and the physical fitness testing (curl ups, pushups and shuttle run relay) was worth 750 points.

“This win represents the harder you work the better the chance you have of coming out on top,” said Cadet Lt. Kadarrius Carr, 18, a senior at Zion. “This team has worked hard to get where they wanted to be and that has been inspiring to me being on a team that has had one focused goal.”

Cadet Lt. Cmdr. Ky-Leigh Boyland, 18, also a senior at Zion-Benton said the win this year meant a lot to her and the team.

“We had a lot of setbacks. We were very young,” she said. “This year we stepped away from all our setbacks and it has been good to see the progress and how everyone on the team has grown.”

It was one of the most dominating performances by Zion-Benton of their nine total regional wins. The “Zee-Bees” won seven of the eight events and placed second in the Personnel Inspection. Zion tallied 5,239.62 points for the overall championship. Harding scored 4,619.62 for second. East Aurora totaled 4,579.50, Papillion-La Vista accumulated 4,526.30 and Rickover finished with 4,519.41 points rounding out the top five.

RTC’s Lt. Cmdr. Jared Paul represented the command and handed out trophies and medals to the cadets and units at an awards ceremony shortly following the last event.

The entire drill competition was on the RTC campus grounds in the Pacific Fleet Drill Hall, the same drill hall recruits use to practice for graduation at the Navy’s only boot camp. Academic testing and the athletic competition were at the Leisure Center in Zion, Illinois.

According to many of the Zion cadets, teamwork and working together has been a constant theme this school year for the returning champion “Zee-Bees” and a big reason why they could put together such an impressive victory.

Retired Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Dan Hackstein is Zion-Benton Township’s NJROTC senior enlisted NSI and head coach of the recently named Zion NJROTC Sporter Division champion from the 2020 Navy Air Rifle Championship in Chandler, Arizona, Feb. 6-8. He also helped coordinate the drill competition with staff and cadets from the unit. He said he and the unit felt extremely good winning again at regionals.

“The kids have done an awesome job,” he said. “Everything has gone really, really well. The drill meet portion has once again been put together very well by RTC and we greatly appreciate their support. There is no better place to have a competition like this than at the ‘Quarterdeck of the Navy’.”

More than 25 RTC staff, recruit division commanders (RDCs) and division officers volunteered their time to judge the weekend event. For the RTC staff, especially the RDCs, being a judge provides additional opportunities to use their drill knowledge and to mentor and mold future citizens.

“It was my first time judging in an event like this and it was really inspiring to see the enthusiasm and hard work of all the cadets,” said Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Camilo Fernan, an RTC staff member. “I look forward to participating in future events.”

The other units involved in the regional included: Bloom Township (Illinois) High School; Bloom Trail (Chicago Heights, Illinois) High School; Freeport (Illinois) High School; North Chicago (Illinois) High School; Proviso East (Maywood, Illinois) High School; Proviso West (Hillside, Illinois) High School; Harold L. Richards (Oak Lawn, Illinois) High School; William Howard Taft (Chicago) High School; George Westinghouse College Prep (Chicago) High School; and Wheeling (Illinois) High School.

Zion-Benton Township High School travels next to Florida to compete in the 2020 Navy JROTC Academic, Athletic and Drill Championship on board Naval Air Station Pensacola, April 3-4.

NJROTC and NNDCC units operate at more than 600 high schools around the world with more than 90,000 cadets participating.

In addition to regular classroom instruction, NJROTC and NNDCC cadets participate in extra-curricular activities throughout the school year and during the summer months designed to stimulate learning by hands-on experiences and to reinforce the program's curriculum. Cadet extra-curricular activities include community service projects, drill competitions, academic competitions, visits to naval installations, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) training.

For more information about NJROTC/NNDCC, visit www.njrotc.navy.mil/.

The NSTC commander, Rear Adm. Jamie Sands, and his staff oversee 98 percent of initial officer and enlisted accessions training for the Navy. This includes Naval ROTC at more than 160 colleges and universities, Officer Training Command (OTC) on Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, RTC and NJROTC/NNDCC.


For more information about NSTC, visit https://www.public.navy.mil/netc/nstc/index.aspx.

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