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Jefferson High JROTC team needs money to fight for championship
The Jefferson High School Air Force JROTC team practices drills in preparation for a national meet April 3 in Washington, D.C. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS
How to help
If anyone is interested in helping the Jefferson High School Air Force JROTC team reach the national championships in Washington, contact Chief Master Sgt. Budell Willis or Maj. Bryan Watson at 706-367-2980.

JEFFERSON — A Jefferson High School Air Force JROTC team has been presented with an opportunity of a lifetime, but they need an extra boost to reach it.

The Jefferson High team placed in the top three in color guard and top five in unarmed drill team among 22 teams during November’s Southeast Regional Drill Meet, said Chief Master Sgt. Budell Willis, the school’s JROTC instructor. Teams from Georgia, South Carolina and North Florida competed in the meet.

The 21 members of the Jefferson team practice four to five days each week to prepare for the National Drill Meet on April 3 in Washington, which will include 35 other high school teams from Florida to Maine.

"Most of our kids aren’t the ones who would be on the football team or the basketball team," said Maj. Bryan Watson, another JROTC instructor at Jefferson High.

"If it wasn’t for (Junior ROTC), they wouldn’t have another outlet in school."

Since the students placed highly in the regional meet, their skill level shouldn’t be a problem in the national competition; the problem is getting the students to the event.

The trip comes at a time when school budgets are being sliced and most parents are feeling strapped for cash. The team has held several fundraisers and is trying to keep costs low, but the trip still will cost around $6,500 just for transportation, event fees and hotel accommodations.

"A lot of our parents just can’t afford to pay for anything extra like this trip, so we’ve tried to do what we could to cut down the costs for them," Willis said. "We have conducted some fundraisers, and we’ve been allotted some funding by (Air Force) JROTC headquarters to cover about 50 percent of the lodging costs."

To help keep costs down, the team will travel the nearly 10 hours to Washington aboard a school bus, instead of renting a more comfortable charter bus. The students will save money by sleeping four to a room.

Willis, a Gainesville native, has reached out to Gainesville’s American Legion Eugene Brown Post 521 for help.

Post Commander Johnny Varner said members of his organization will do what they can to help because they believe JROTC is important.

"The program helps students value hard work, while gaining a sense of pride in self, community and nation," Varner said. "This is a sense of patriotism that puts nation above self with willingness to serve one’s community. These are the attributes our youth will need to understand in the difficult times ahead in our nation economically."

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