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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jul 06, 2020

COVID-19 Claims Championship Opportunities from CNHS Navy Junior ROTC

By Lori Draz

The COVID-19 crisis impacted everyone in many ways. In high schools, proms were canceled, graduations were postponed, and student-athletes were denied their chance to shine in their given sport. But there was another group that also lost its chance to compete on a national level, the Navy Junior ROTC (NJROTC) Cadets. Over the years, these amazing students have performed at the highest levels, earning many national titles year after year.

In the NJROTC world, the competitive season is the entire school year. Starting in August every year, about two-thirds of the cadets in the Colts Neck High School NJROTC Cadet Battalion begin their march to their competitive season, which kicks off in early October. Competitions include military drill (regulation and exhibition); academics (NJROTC curriculum and all academic disciplines); and physical fitness (strength and endurance) as they compete on the academic team, athletic team, drill team, cyber security team and orienteering team.

Training begins every morning at 6:45 with all cadets performing their maximum number of situps and pushups to a recorded cadence. After the cadets have completed and recorded their cadence exercises, they continue training in one of three groups – athletic, academic studies and drill practices. Practices conclude at 8 am, and their school day begins.

It’s a challenging schedule for the cadets and instructors, but their dedication has yielded great rewards. The unit captured the 2020 NJROTC Area 4 (northeast USA) Academic, Athletic and Drill Championship; the 2020 Area 4 Brain Brawl Championship (academics); and the 2020 Area 4 Orienteering Championship. As champions, CNHS cadets had earned the honor of representing their NJROTC Area and were poised to participate in three national level championship events. Then came the pandemic.

Senior Naval Science Instructor Major Gregory J. Penczak, USMC(Ret) supervises the program at Colts Neck High School. He shared, “The cadets work hard doing drills and physical and mental workouts every morning from August through June because they enjoy competing. They have been taught that winning requires dedication, preparation and hard work. They like to win and enjoy being together as a group. The pandemic, in Navy jargon, was like a torpedo that hit the unit midship, causing it to go dead in the water as it was moving full steam ahead to the season of national championships.”

Cadets compete at the NJROTC Area 4 Championship in New York on Feb. 15

On March 12, 20 cadets had their bags packed for their transportation to the Quantico, Virginia area to compete in the 2020 NJROTC National Orienteering Championship. Fees had been paid, hotels reserved, and the cadets, along with their chaperones, were excited for the contest. CNHS cadets had captured fifth in the nation honors over the past two years at the Orienteering Championships. This year’s team was stronger and anxious to best that fifth place finish. As the cadets were literally loading their bags into the vehicles, the phone call came that the championship was canceled.

“It’s very hard to describe the impact this had on the cadets,” Penczak said. “The looks on their faces told the story.”

Additionally, the 2020 National Academic, Athletic and Drill Championship scheduled for the first weekend in April at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida was originally postponed and finally canceled. This cancellation really hurt. In 2019, Colts Neck High School NJROTC captured the Athletic Crown and broke the unofficial record for cadence situps at the National Championship. The cadets worked hard to break their own record. Two cadets, sisters Grace and Ava Suhocki, had trained at home all year and each were doing approximately 330 situps in the six-minute time limit. The team also wanted to improve its overall pushups score. Cadet Nick Lee was doing approximately 150 pushups in cadence to vie for tops in the nation. Sadly, for Lee and the team, he is a senior and will be graduating – virtually – so he will not get the opportunity to be best in the nation.

Finally, the National Brain Brawl Championship in San Diego, California was also canceled, disappointing many cadets.

“I know many athletes suffered by not being able to play but many will be able to play their sports at other schools,” Penczak said. “For JROTC senior cadets, this was their last hurrah since there aren’t any similar competition venues once you leave high school. Our Battalion plans to get right back to work once these onerous restrictions are lifted. Like any great team, we may get knocked down, but we will rise again and strive to win. We are anxious for school year 2020-21 and the opportunities it will bring to our unit.”