Luella High School JROTC repeats as state champions

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Local students are once again enjoying the fruits of their labors after emerging victorious in a statewide competition.

For the second straight year, Luella High School’s Navy JROTC group earned Grand Champion honors in the recent All Service JROTC Drill Meet at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville.

Luella High School's Navy JROTC group won the statewide competition in Milledgeville. Special photo

Their instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Jimmie Lewis, has been teaching JROTC at Luella since 2005, and said the school has produced “some really good teams.” He congratulated this year’s group for their success in the competition.

“I’m just glad that they did well enough to win,” said Lewis. “We’re just glad with being able to do that with such a young team. We only have four seniors.”

Students in the competition were scored in events including an Academic Bowl, physical training, Color Guard, Individual and Dual Exhibitions. Georgia Military College launched the competition last year, and Luella High has won both years.

Luella High was one of seven schools across the state to participate in the event. Lewis attributed his group’s high marks to the dedication they exhibit in their desire to be the best.

“We practice really hard all year, and it shows when we compete against top level talent,” he said. “Our expectations are high. We know we’re not going to win every drill meet, but we expect to. That’s why we practice so hard.”

Cadet Commander Necolle Cruz, 17, is a senior at Luella High and led her team to the championship. Cruz, who has been involved with JROTC for four years, said she did so because she wanted more self-discipline and to become “better as a citizen.”

Cruz said the biggest challenge this year was making sure everyone on her team – particularly the younger cadets – knew their parts of the routine they were to perform at the competition. She expressed pride in her team’s accomplishments and credited Lewis’ leadership as one reason they were able to win.

“I knew that we could do it. There were mistakes that we made, but we pulled through, especially with a young team,” said Cruz.

Cruz plans to enlist in the Marine Corps after graduation and said JROTC has helped to prepare her for that next step.

Like Cruz, 18-year-old senior, Master Chief Petty Officer Gretarius Stewart, has been in JROTC throughout his high-school years. He joined the group after moving to the area from Jasper County, and said it has enabled him to forge friendships with his fellow cadets and people in the community.

Stewart said he was “relieved” to win the competition.

“We did better than last year, overall,” he said.

Stewart will attend Kennesaw State University after graduation, majoring in accounting. He noted that JROTC has helped to teach him the value of patience, and acknowledged that he will need to exercise that value in his chosen field.

“I’ve had to deal with a lot of people, over the last four years, sometimes not doing what they’re supposed to,” said Stewart.

Georgia Military College Public Affairs Coordinator, Shannon Wiggins, commended Luella High’s JROTC students for winning the competition. “This is our second year hosting it, and we’re just looking forward to having more schools participate next year,” said Wiggins. “We’re very excited that they won. It was a very exciting competition, and we’re looking forward to making it bigger every year.”