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Pace HS NJROTC Wins Virtual 2021 Navy Nationals Competition
by Scott A. Thornbloom, Naval Service Training Command
May 4, 2021

Pace High School’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets practiced during a pandemic and bested 23 other units to be crowned the 2021 Navy Nationals Academic, Athletic and Drill champions on April 16, 2021.

Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) members from Pace High School participate in an armed exhibition drill event during their 2021 Navy Nationals Academic, Athletic and Drill competition at Pace High School, April 8, 2021. Pace NJROTC went on to best 23 other NJROTC units to claim their first national championship. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Pace NJROTC)
Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) members from Pace High School participate in an armed exhibition drill event during their 2021 Navy Nationals Academic, Athletic and Drill competition at Pace High School, April 8, 2021. Pace NJROTC went on to best 23 other NJROTC units to claim their first national championship. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Pace NJROTC)

 Events included a 101-question academic test and three athletic competitions; curl-ups, push-ups and a 16x100-yard shuttle relay race. There were also five drill competitions consisting of armed basic, unarmed basic, color guard, armed exhibition and unarmed exhibition events.

“With all the challenges we went through and all the precautions and protections we had to do because of COVID, it feels great,” said Cadet Cmdr. Justin Liaw, the battalion commander for Pace NJROTC. “I wish I had a better word than great, amazing or awesome. I’m really proud of this team and everything we did and had to go through this past year. I would not have wanted to do this with any other group of people.”

Liaw, a senior who has been accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy next year, noted it was Pace’s first overall Navy Nationals championship after coming close several times.

Before Navy Nationals, NJROTC area managers held virtual regional competitions. The top two performing teams in each region advanced in Navy Nationals. Joining them were the 2019 Navy Nationals champion and runner-up. In addition, teams filled in for teams that could not participate due to COVID restrictions, according to David Hart, NJROTC deputy director.

As COVID-19 travel restrictions continued, each qualifying unit locally hosted Navy Nationals competition events and filmed their entries. In total, 24 total teams virtually competed.

“It’s obviously been a very challenging year with the COVID situation we’re dealing with,” said retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Patrick Vegeler, senior Naval Science Instructor (NSI) and Pace NJROTC unit commanding officer. “This whole entire year has been a rallying point for these kids. They completely embraced it (working toward getting to Nationals), bought in and worked their tails off to make this happen.”

“The COVID pandemic has been very challenging for our valued school partners and our instructors, but I am so very impressed with how they have been innovative and are leading in a very positive way navigating the challenge,” said Tim Daseler, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC) deputy commander for NJROTC operations.

An awards ceremony was held at Pace High School on April 22, 2021 where the unit received their individual medals and event trophies from Daseler and NJROTC staff members.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps 1st Sgt. and NSI, John Baker, said what put Pace over the top was the team coming together and having the same mission.

“I’m really proud of the kids. This is a great accomplishment representing our high school and representing Navy JROTC. We weren’t going to make excuses about this year and restrictions we had to face. We are really proud of them for overcoming everything to become national champions,” Baker said.

NJROTC is a citizenship development program that instills in high school students and in U.S. secondary educational institutions the value of citizenship and service to the United States.

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