Bellevue West High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC drill team after winning first in the unarmed exhibition in the national drill competition.

Upon qualifying for the national Junior ROTC Drill Championship, Bellevue West High School students viewed videos of well-respected teams online.

Air Force JROTC drill team commander senior Tom Hart said he watched some of the teams in awe, learning from the sharpness of their movements. He wondered how his team could ever stack up to teams so talented.

So, when their school was called as first-place of the unarmed exhibition, many West students were caught off guard.

“I think we we’re all kind of surprised,” drill team commander senior Nate Slisik said. “We weren’t really expecting it.”

The team was the best among 20 schools from around the country competing in that category.

Slisik said he wasn’t too focused on winning, but rather on enjoying the experience. The first-place award was just the cherry on top.

In the unarmed exhibition, schools performed their own choreographed routines. West’s routine was created in 1996, and has used it ever since, changing it up a little each year.

Chief Master Sgt. Vicki Swingle said another school at the competition copied their routine, but since West has been performing it so for long, judges knew whose routine it really was. They figure they must be doing something right to have others copy them.

The last time West qualified for nationals was 2012, so none of these students had been to the competition before.

The national meet was held March 24 in Dayton, Ohio. During the trip, they visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Normally competitions are local, so teams see the same teams perform. Seeing new teams was interesting, Hart said, as each one was unique in some way.

The atmosphere at a national competition was far different than local competitions, Slisik said. He said at local competitions, all teams clap for one another. At this competition, they were the only team clapping for others.

Judges, as well as staff at the hotel they stayed in, complimented the team on respectfulness, Swingle said. They all knew they were representing Bellevue and Bellevue Public Schools.

“They were incredible ambassadors for this community,” Swingle said.

Hart and Slisik said they were proud of the team pushing past numerous setbacks this year, including losing members and canceled competitions due to inclement weather.

With half of this year’s team being seniors, drill team members said they hope this win gathers some more interest from freshman next school year to continue their success.

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