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Junior ROTC leads students to scholarships

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A good education can be the difference in getting ahead or plodding along, and for many students the answer to getting ahead is furthering their education. However, college can be expensive and, in today's economy, a difficult endeavor.

But Junior ROTC, and specifically the sport of air rifle marksmanship, is playing a key role in helping Cadets progress to the next level.

Students like Charles Hollis, Tyler Rico and Alexandrea Provine have used their experience and skill to make college affordable by targeting scholarships that reward standout students like themselves.

"Before this I had nothing to do and I don't think, academically, I could have even gotten into the University of Arizona," said Provine, a Cadet from Flowing Wells High School in Arizona. "But just before my sophomore year our major gave me a trophy for 'most promising Cadet,' and that motivated me."

Because of that motivation, Provine said not only did her grades improve but she was also more involved in school and in the community. As a result, Provine was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on a marksmanship scholarship. She starts there this fall.

"Academically this has helped a lot, too. In shooting you have to focus," Provine said. "In school, like in math class where you have to figure out what the question is asking you, (marksmanship) helps you figure things out and concentrate."

Her teammate, Tyler Rico, said JROTC helped him with his decision-making skills, and taught him leadership. Due in part to his discipline and decision-making, Rico is part of the President's 100 and is well-known in the sport of air rifle marksmanship as the rifleman to beat.

As part of the marksmanship team, he was able to reach a long-time goal.

"I started shooting competitively in 2005, before that I was shooting recreationally with my dad," Rico said. "Because of my (rifle) ranking and academics, I was able to get into the Air Force Academy. I have always wanted to fly, and this has helped me reach that goal."

Although some students may choose to enter the military, JROTC is not a military recruiting tool but rather a tool with which to help high schools create better citizens. Reports show they're also among the top performers in the classroom, with a graduation rate of roughly 97 percent.

The program is designed to teach students several lessons to include the ability to appreciate the ethical values and principles underlying good citizenship, to think logically and to effectively communicate orally and in writing effectively with others; to appreciate the importance of physical fitness in maintaining good health, and to develop mental management abilities.

It also emphasizes the importance of high school graduation for a successful future and educates students about college and other advanced educational and employment opportunities.

Retired Maj. Randy Matney, senior Army instructor at Wythe County Technical Center in Virginia, said JROTC teaches students things they might not otherwise learn in high school.

"They learn responsibility -- to themselves and to others, accountability and they gain self-esteem," he said. "The different programs that JROTC offers shows the Cadets that they can do something, and they can achieve at something.

"They learn a lot of social skills, too, with different kids and learn to work with everyone--regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs."

Matney added that students participate in academic, marksmanship, drill, orienteering, physical fitness and leadership competitions. Many also attend summer camps.

It is because of JROTC programs like air rifle and academic teams and the leadership and communication skills they learn and community involvement that JROTC students are able to earn scholarships to almost any college or university they want to attend.

Charles Hollis, a senior Cadet from Rayville High School in Louisiana, will attend Oklahoma Panhandle State University on a football scholarship this fall. Hollis, who won the individual sporter air rifle title at the 2012 Army JROTC Air Rifle Championships, said JROTC taught him a lot that he uses on and off the field.

"I learned patience. You can't throw the rest of a (rifle match) because of bad shot," Hollis said. "It has allowed me to learn to work as a team -- of course, football does that, too. But it taught me mental toughness. Football is physical and is about anger--taking it out on someone. But here (I learned) to use, or more importantly don't use, the anger and what to do with it."

Hollis joined the Louisiana National Guard last year and completed basic training last summer. This spring he will complete training to become a cavalry scout and transfer to the Oklahoma National Guard before starting college. Ultimately, Hollis said he wants to major in history and education and coach high school football.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Riess Pellegrino, an instructor at Sarasota Military Academy, said what his Cadets learn in the program, specifically the marksmanship program, transcends shooting.

"My philosophy has nothing to do with shooting," he said. "Commitment, dedication and focus are just a few of the things they learn. They have to balance academics and (extracurricular activities) and we have fund-raisers, competition and practice so they have to learn to budget their time."

He had two Cadets graduate last year and go to college programs on marksmanship scholarships. One former Cadet is now at the Citadel and is the first student there in 15 years to earn two letters in his freshman year.
And, he added, one of his Cadets from two years ago currently swims at West Virginia. Pellegrino said he is in touch with a lot of his cadets from over the years.

"I tell them that if they earn a spot at the next level I'll make it happen, at whatever the cost to me," Pellegrino said. "They learn to set goals and achieve goals, which is more important than shooting. They can take what they learned and apply it to the classroom and onward in life."

Pellegrino said academics and behavior are things he can't compromise on with his Cadets. Before any can participate in a competition, their teachers have to sign permission slips for them to miss class.

"They learn responsibility and accountability," he said. "What gets them into college is their work in the classroom."

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