COLUMBIA (WIS) - Winning is a tradition for the cadets of the Army JROTC Drill team at Airport High School in West Columbia.
Earlier this year, they were named state champions at the All Army High School State Drill Championship for the second year in a row.
"One of our mottos in ROTC on the drill team is, "If you want to be a champion, you got to practice until you can't get it wrong, said Command Sgt. Major (Ret.) Harry Ferguson, Airport High School's Army JROTC Instructor.
As evident from their win, their practice paid off at the state championship. "We were extremely happy when they called our name for first overall," said Cadet Col. Kayla Murphy. And that win meant a trip to a national drill competition in Daytona Beach, Florida.
"We come [outside the school] every single day after school and we practice," said Cadet Major Jerianm Davila.
"[We make] sure that we have all the distinctions done, all the timing is right- making sure everyone is on step," said Cadet Col. Murphy
Practice led the cadets to finish 6th in their division at nationals and place in 4 categories. It was also at nationals that one Airport High School Cadet became a bit of a celebrity.
"It was like no other feeling in the world," said Cadet PFC Ariel Summerlin. "People [were] asking for pictures with me and wanting to talk to me," she added.
Summerlin is only a freshman, but she stole the spotlight. Born without a left leg, she does everything her peers do with the same precise timing and execution.
"Some of the upperclassmen have worked with me and taught me this is what you can do," said Summerlin.
If you watch her during the team's drill exercise, it seems there's nothing she can't do.
"She's one that you can't tell no," said Sgt. Major Ferguson. "You can't tell her that it's not going to work."
You can also forget using words like handicapped or disabled around the 14 year-old. "I hate those words, those are like cuss words to me," said Summerlin. "I'm not handicapped, I'm not disabled, I'm just like you—just slightly different," she added.
And while this is just her first year on the drill team, her skills show she's far from a beginner. "She's brave, I know that for sure," said Cadet Davila. "I myself could never do it."
But Summerlin would most likely argue that Cadet Davila or anyone could, because she and her teammates are champions.
"I have faith in myself," said Summerlin. "Hearing others tell me, you can do this, don't doubt yourself…I know I can do it."
Summerlin says she already has her goals set for her sophomore year. She wants to command an event or be on the armed drill team squad.
As for the team, they say there's no time to slow down. It's back to work over the summer in hopes of another state championship, and they have their eyes on a first place finish at nationals, too.