Marion High School JROTC’s Cadet Smith wins National Drill Championship
(picture) Marion High School JROTC Cadet DJ Smith (left) stands with his national championship trophy after winning the JROTC National Drill Championship in the Individual Armed Exhibition category. Smith competed against 70 of the best drillers from across the country in the 2019 championships in Daytona, Fla., to become the first Marion JROTC cadet to win a national championship. (Photo provided by Marion Community Schools)
MARION — It was well known around the Midwestern JROTC Drill community that DJ Smith from Marion High School was a force to be reckoned with. He earned first place finishes in all five of the regional competitions he entered this year. But stepping up to compete at the National Championship in Daytona, Fla., was a dream of his. With big dreams, come big rewards: Cadet Smith is now the National JROTC Drill Champion!
Smith competed in the Individual Armed Exhibition category, in which competitors spin, flip, throw, and catch a 9-pound drill rifle while marching precision steps under the watchful eye of graders from the various military branches’ ceremonial units. Smith initially faced 70 other drillers in his category before advancing as one of 12 to the final medal round.
“I was very nervous knowing there were so many other great drillers there,” said Smith, a senior at MHS. “I knew if I messed up at all I was out.”
After the preliminary round, Smith was seeded in second place overall. He knew he was going to face the best of the best.
What was going through his mind as he stepped up to the drill pad for his final routine as a high school JROTC cadet? He recalled: “Don’t drop! Just don’t drop the rifle.”
For the next 2 minutes and 50 seconds, Smith spun the rifle in front, behind, and over his head as he went through the routine he had practiced hundreds of time. The rifle flipped through the air, spinning five times before he caught it behind his back. He executed the routine flawlessly.
As he finished, he thought to himself: “That’s it! That was the most perfect routine I have ever done.”
And then, he had to wait for the official awards ceremony later that night.
Sitting among thousands of other JROTC cadets representing the best drill teams from across the nation, Smith waited for the results.
“When they called the second place winner, I knew that I had won,” Smith said. “I just felt it.”
And when his name was called, DJ Smith became the first cadet from Marion High School to win a national championship.
“I felt like I actually accomplished what I needed to do” Smith said. “I could go home with my head held high.”
MHS JROTC Army Instructor retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Smith, who coaches the Marion Drill Team, speaks with pride of Smith’s accomplishment.
“DJ Smith is the best individual exhibition driller we have ever had,” CSM Smith said. “It is amazing to think that a kid from Marion, Indiana, just won a national championship. And he truly deserves it.”
DJ Smith would like to thank all the individuals and organizations who made donations to help him fund this trip. He has enlisted in the U.S. Army as a cannon crew member-artillery and will ship off to basic combat training in June, after graduating with the Marion High School Class of 2019.
A video of Smith's routine can be viewed at the school website: http://mhs.marion.k12.in.us/index.cfm?event=news&pageid=1764