Neshoba Central’s NJROTC captures fourth state title

Image of NJROTC 2022 Champions

Members of the Neshoba Central High School’s Navy JROTC championship team are Dakota Arnold, Tyus Bell, Curtis Benson, Leslie Berry, Amery Boykin, Jimmy Boykin, Tehya Carey, Parish Comby, Teshiilyn Henry, Ethan Jones, Olivia Jones, Nathan Killen, Jeremiah Kirk-Harris, Leticia Lopez, JonPaul Moore, Dillon Morris, Jaidon Owens, Julian Perez, Cianna Phillips Billie Pike, Noah Renfrow, Frederick Rush, Kelsey Rush, Andrew Sellers, Shot Stribling, Jackson Stroud, Isaiah Thomas, Keira Thomas, Alex Thompson, Chloe Thompson and Alex Wallace

Neshoba Central High School’s Navy JROTC captured its fourth state title in six years during the Mississippi State All-Service JROTC Drill Championship.

Neshoba is one of 84 JROTC units in Mississippi, which consists of Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force.

Units competed in both unarmed and armed divisions, with Neshoba scoring the highest number of points state-wide.

In the unarmed division, the Neshoba unit captured first place in personnel inspection, first place in regulation drill and second place in exhibition drill.

In the armed division, the unit won third place in color guard, third place in regulation drill and first place in exhibition drill.

Senior Naval Science Instructor Captain Regan Kieff said Neshoba competed throughout the year against other JROTC units and the best 10 made it to the state competition. All services compete against each other.

JROTC Instructor Chief Michael Bulloch said Mississippi is among the few states that consolidate their JROTC units under one umbrella.

The state director is an employee of Mississippi Department of Education.

The Neshoba Central NJROTC program consists of 104 members from 9th through 12th grades. Thirty-one members are on the drill team that competed at the state competition hosted by Lafayette High School.

The state championship title did not come without a lot of practice and perseverance, the instructors said.

“Every practice, when we are done, we get together and do a debrief of the practice and then we pray,” Kieff said.

“Before that, we emphasize the importance that it’s not about the trophy. It’s about the journey we took to get there.”

Kieff said he was a “firm believer” that the cadets won’t remember the trophy but they’ll remember the friendships and the journey.

 “This year was especially challenging since the majority of the units were recovering from the gap created by COVID,” he said. “A lot of units are still not able to travel yet.”

Neshoba Central NJROTC was “very fortunate” to spring back and be able to travel and be competitive.

Bulloch said rebuilding experience within the unit was a big obstacle after the pandemic.

“The seniors this year were sophomores when the lockdown occurred,” he said. “They missed out on a year-and-a-half of drill competition.”

Kieff shared his sentiment.

“Normally, you are competing every year and those underclassmen get that experience and move up,” he said.

“These guys had that year-and-a-half break. When it was time to hit it again, everybody got thrown into the fire. We had to get it right before we could compete. Luckily, they were a very resilient group. They did hours of practice in order to accomplish this goal.”

Neshoba Central NJROTC Commanding Officer Alexandria Wallace, a senior, is very proud of her unit.

She recalled the day after her mother died when her unit was scheduled to practice.

“I wanted to be here at practice with the people I really cared about,” she said. “Instead of staying at home, I went to practice.”

That decision moved Kieff in a personal way.

“Her speech, after we won the state title, right there on the football field is one that I won’t ever forget,” he said.

“She said after her mother died she had a choice to walk onto the field and practice with her NJROTC family or stay at home. She wanted to be with her NJROTC family. That is what the program is to her.  I know for both of us as instructors, if we can make every cadet feel like that about our program, we will always be successful.”

Wallace’s mother was instrumental in her joining NJROTC.

“As a youngster, I was always told that home is where you make it and family isn’t limited to blood,” Wallace said.

 “This program became my family. I have experienced many losses in my lifetime, from losing people I could call friends to losing a mother. My end decision for each situation was that I would be with my NJROTC family as the drill deck became my home and these cadets and instructors became my family.”

Being the leader of the Neshoba Central NJROTC was never about positions, medals and recognitions for Wallace.

“It was never about winning or showing everyone what you, as a single person, could do,” she said. “It was about what we, as a team, could do. It was about what we could change or how to better ourselves after a loss.”

During her four-year stint with NJROTC, Wallace recalled how the cadets lifted each other up, laughed at each other and even argued at times.

“But most importantly, we motivated each other to stay the course,” she said. “Quitting wasn’t an option. Family sticks together no matter how hard things get.”

Wallace plans to attend Mississippi State University after graduation and major in chemical engineering.

- Story by Debbie Burt Myers