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Among hundreds of teams, Giants earn 5th at Army JROTC National Raider Challenge

The Marion High School JROTC Raider Team traveled to Kentucky last weekend to face the very best teams from across the country in the All-Army National Raider Challenge hosted by the U.S. Army Cadet Command. 

Nearly 400 teams, with over 5,000 cadets, battled in three separate ability Divisions. The Giants were placed in the toughest and highest level: the Masters Division.

Fielding a team in the mixed/co-ed category, the Giants once again were in direct competition with the huge private military academies, and JROTC programs with several hundred cadets. But the Marion team was no stranger to battling these giants as they have faced and bested many of them over the last several years.

“Last year, we lost to Sarasota Military Academy by just .06 seconds on one event, thus losing the top finish as the National Champions,” said retired Lt. Col. David Farlow, the Raider team coach. “It was a hard pill to swallow for the cadets. So they trained hard all season for this event.”

The Giants faced many teams through the regular season who also were present for the Army’s National Championship. But the Giants had defeated them all, winning the Indiana Raider State Championship this year for a third time in the four years that it has been held.

But the focus for the Giants remained on the elusive national title.

“We want it, we want it bad,” said senior Steven Fuller, the captain of the Giants squad.

As the sun rose over the Kentucky hills, the Giants were poised to start the most difficult event: the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run. This site features some of the most difficult terrain Fort Knox could offer, with steep hills, creeks and wooded trails for the grueling run.

“We knew that we had to do well in this event,” said junior Kylar Pettus. “Our focus was to catch the team that started on the course 2:30 minutes before us.”

The 5K run has been the Giants’ weakest event throughout the season.

The Giants finished the course in a blistering 32:33 minutes, earning them a fourth-place finish in the event.

Feeling confident, the Marion squad moved on to the one-rope bridge event where the team crossed a 90-foot span over a river.

“I was worried about running across the river to tie the far side knot,” said senior Jocelyn Lopez-Gomez. “I didn’t want to trip and fall. I knew that I had to move as fast as possible.”

It was a very solid performance as the Giants built and crossed the river in just 2:13 minutes to garner the third-place finish in the event.

The gauntlet was the next event for the Giants, featuring a multitude of obstacles, including a 12-foot wall, along the 1-mile course through the very difficult wooded terrain. And at a new event venue there was much uncertainty as to what to expect.

“We were provided limited details about the actual obstacles and course,” Farlow said. “When the cadets started, they had to adjust to the obstacles as they approached them, figuring out the best method to accomplish the task.”

Adjusting quickly on the fly, in what turned out to be a very difficult event, the Giants were able to finish in third place with a time of 11:46 minutes.

The Giants transferred to another location onsite for the remaining two events. First up was the cross-country litter rescue. The Giants had dominated this event for the previous two years.

The 1-mile event featured an 8-foot wall, a 60-foot mud pit and a series of hurdles the cadets must scale while running with 35-pound backpacks and carrying a 75-pound litter. But fatigue was setting in.

The Giants finished with a solid time of 8:44 minutes. But that was a disappointing finish.

“I knew it was not our best effort,” Farlow said. “And it cost us a sixth-place finish.”

It was time for their final event: the physical team test, a half-mile sprint with multiple stations where the cadets have to carry heavy items, crawl under and hurl over obstacles, drag a weighted sled and flip a huge tire multiple times before reaching the finish line.

Farlow knew his team had to give their maximum effort.

“I knew we had to go as fast as we could,” said senior Damarie Weaver. “We just had to go!” And the Giants responded to the need and ran the event in 6:55. Fast enough to pull in a second-place finish.

Having finished the events of the day, the Marion group returned to their campsite, hoping they would get the call to compete in the final event: the Ultimate Raider competition.

Only the top seven teams are invited to compete in the Ultimate Raider Competition, with each team picking their best male and female Raider to compete.

The night wore on, and still no call.

“My phone rang, and I didn’t recognize the number,” Farlow said. “I was hoping it was not a solicitation call from someone trying to get me to refinance a mortgage.”

He answered, and then:

“We’re in!” he screamed to the team, and the cadets burst into cheers, whoops and hollers.

In fact, the Giants made such a noise of celebration that campers at the far end of the campground called the police thinking a fight had broken out.

Farlow tapped junior Kryuna Shumock along with Fuller to represent the Giants in the two-phase event. 

The first phase started with a half-mile run up the dreaded hill called “Misery”. Once at the top, the duo then had to negotiate 14 various obstacles before reaching the finish line. And then, after about a 30 minute rest, all the competitors lined up for the final phase: the 2-mile run to the finish line where all their teammates and spectators were waiting for them.

Giving every ounce of energy left in their bodies, Fuller and Shumock crossed the finish line, and their cheering team waited with all the others for the results to be tabulated.

Once all results from the entire Raider Challenge were finalized, the Giants ended up with an amazing fifth place finish overall. Only four teams in the entire country beat them in the National Championship.

“It was an outstanding finish for the team,” Farlow said. “I am so proud of their performance all season, and especially here, given it was a totally new location.

But his Raider warriors were very disappointed in the results. They wanted another shot.

The All-Services (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps) JROTC Raider National Championship in Molena, Ga., is in two weeks. And the Giants will get their last shot at a national title this year.

With a unified look of determination in their eyes, the Giants have announced: “Time to Raider Up!”

MHS_2023_11_05_JROTC_ArmyNationals_Raiders (picture)
The Marion High School JROTC Raider team competed in the All-Army Raider National Championship on Nov. 4 and 5 at Fort Knox, Ky. In the event featuring nearly 400 Raider teams from across the country, the Giants earned an amazing fifth-place finish in the Master Division, which is reserved for only the top teams. (Photo provided by Marion Community Schools)
MHS_2023_11_05_JROTC_ArmyNationals_Raiders_Bridge (picture)
Marion High School JROTC Raiders rapidly traverse a 90-foot one-rope bridge they constructed over a river at the All-Army Raider National Championship on Nov. 4 and 5 at Fort Knox, Ky. The Giants finished third in the event, and fifth overall at the competition. (Photo provided by Marion Community Schools)
MHS_2023_11_05_JROTC_ArmyNationals_Raiders_Run (picture)
Marion High School JROTC Raiders run to the finish line during the cross country rescue event at the All-Army Raider National Championship on Nov. 4 and 5 at Fort Knox, Ky. The Giants competed against the best teams from across the nation to earn a fifth-place finish overall. (Photo provided by Marion Community Schools)
MHS_2023_11_05_JROTC_ArmyNationals_Raiders_Gauntlet (picture)
Marion High JROTC Raiders scale an incline wall during the gauntlet event at the All-Army Raider National Championship on Nov. 4 and 5 at Fort Knox, Ky. The Giants placed third in this event and earned a fifth-place overall at the competition. (Photo provided by Marion Community Schools)

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