LYNN — You can’t walk too far into Lynn English High School without spotting a JROTC trophy. The awards line the walls and clutter cabinet space in hallways and classrooms of the building. Junior Stephany Estrada hopes to add to the collection of accolades this week.
Estrada is a member of the high school’s drill team, which left on Tuesday for the All Service National High School Drill Team Championship this week in Daytona, Fla. Two weeks ago, she was named the 2019 MCJROTC Unarmed Individual Drill Champion in Virginia, beating out 675 other cadets.
“I got off the floor and the lady gave me the paper to sign my name and I was shaking,” Estrada said. “I felt like it was the most surreal thing ever.”
Last year, Estrada competed at the All Service National championship in Daytona. She placed second out of 1,000 competing cadets in the Unarmed Individual Drill and was promoted from a cadet to a corporal. But, she said, it was not easy getting there.
“My freshman year I got kicked out of JROTC because of my grades, so I couldn’t compete,” she said. “I wanted to come back the next year but I was scared because I was so embarrassed.”
The summer before 10th grade, Estrada made a decision and joined the team again. She said her drill commander at the time had a conversation with her about not slacking on her schoolwork anymore.
“Those words still resonate with me today,” Estrada said.
Third quarter report cards came out and there was an “F” in the slot for her Chemistry grade. The JROTC guidelines state any member who fails a single class can’t compete, but Estrada said her commander convinced Sgt. Major Ken Oswald to let her compete.
Oswald gave Estrada one day to write a letter acknowledging she failed, with a promise to pass the rest of the school year. It had to be signed by her, her parents and her guidance counselor. He gave her the OK to compete right before they left for Daytona last year, where she finished second place in the individual knockout competition.
“This program gives me something to do and gives me motivation to do better in school,” Estrada said. “Without ROTC, I probably wouldn’t even be in school right now.”
Estrada isn’t the only Lynn English JROTC member with her eyes on the prize. Sophomore Erignacio Fermin competed in Daytona last year and became the 2018 Armed Individual Drill Champion, with Lynn English junior Phat Hang as the runner-up.
In the last two decades, the Lynn JROTC program has brought home hundreds of awards, both big and small. Oswald said they had to recycle more than 200 trophies last year because they had nowhere to put them. They gave them to different organizations that couldn’t afford their own.
“It’s not about the trophy,” Oswald said. “It’s about the life lessons they’re learning and the smiles on their faces after they finish doing something together.”