Helping kids put their best foot forward

The Lynn English JROTC Drill Team is stepping up its game to compete in the Marine Corps JROTC National Championship.

Talented kids are strutting their stuff in Peabody and marching out of Lynn to a national competition, thanks to dedicated adults who look only at the positive when they work with young people.

Lynn English High School’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp (JROTC) program is success personified with Sgt. Major Kenneth Oswald and his colleagues molding young men and women into disciplined young adults.

The JROTC drill team is one 15 teams from around the country selected to compete in a national championship in Texas. Fewer than 10 percent of the eligible teams nationwide are selected to compete and the Lynn kids hope to add a win in Texas to JROTC’s long list of competition victories.

Peabody became the focal point for competition of a different sort last weekend by hosting the Competitive Breakin’ League’s Mid Atlantic North Regionals. Competitors with names like King Kai, Kid Glyde and Spydey swirled, danced and spun their way through an afternoon of physical creativity.

The contrast between break dancing and military precision could not be more pronounced. But practice and unrelenting discipline underscore both pursuits. Both activities also bring young lives into focus and tug them away from crime, substance abuse and other unhealthy pursuits.

Oswald and break dancer Antonio Castillo probably have never met one another but both men talk about building character when they explain their respective programs.

Kids who cannot find a sense of direction at home or in school gravitate to JROTC and dancing. But kids with big dreams of serving their country or performing on a big stage also find themselves drawn to what Oswald and Castillo can offer them.

JROTC started in English at a time when the lure of street distractions and trouble in school were attractions for students that local educators wanted to eliminate. Oswald was sitting in his Pennsylvania home when he got an offer to lead the English program. He answered, “Sure,” and never looked back.

Like Castillo, who sees dance as an art form rooted in the search for personal identity, Oswald understands that standing in formation, learning to march and following orders represent building blocks on a path that takes a young person to self-discovery and the rewards of self-respect.

JROTC isn’t a path into the military any more than break dancing is a highway leading to an entertainment career. Both programs are an opportunity for someone who is young and has no answer to the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” to learn how to hold their chin up and look someone in the eye when they introduce themselves.

Even if they come away from Texas empty-handed, Oswald’s kids will already be successes — like Castillo’s — because they showed up and competed.

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