A lack of experience wasn’t enough to stop the JROTC students at Polytech from winning at this year’s Raider Challenge.

The statewide challenge puts their skills to the test in areas ranging from endurance to knot tying. Polytech took first place among 12 teams Nov. 18 at Smyrna High School.

To claim victory teams accumulate points in a series of events: a physical fitness test, where they complete as many sit-ups and pushups as possible in a minute; complete a 5k run; a rope tying relay; litter carrying, which simulates carrying an injured person; rope bridge building and a vehicle pull.

The goal is to test and develop leadership skills and teach the importance of self-discipline. Senior Master Sgt. Shane Eaton said this is why Polytech JROTC decided to create a team.

“What I can teach them out there is completely different than what I can teach them in [the class],” Eaton said.

Eaton said the idea was the result of discussions he’d had with established teams.

“We knew that Polytech wasn’t really involved with extracurricular activities with JROTC,” he said. “Instructors all over the state were talking about what it does for their programs. I went out last year to a cadet leadership course and I watched them do different things and saw the motivation they had and I wanted to bring that back here.”

It didn’t take much to excite the students about the plan, he said.

“The kids wanted to know about Raiders and so we started watching videos and got them hyped and it blew up from there,” he said.

The team practices before and after school.

Team leader Cadet Col. Derrick Dinuova said students had to wake up as early as 3 a.m. so they could be at school for a 6:30 a.m. practice. Dinuova and other teammates would pick up some of the others.

“We have some very dedicated cadets and we understand not everyone can get here on time,” Dinuova said.

“Most of it has to do with our interest to learn,” Dinuova said. “Everyone wants to compete with the best. We want to be the best.”

He said the team had to measure each member’s skill set.

“We look at who are the best eight for each individual competition to see where we can get the best results,” Dinuova said.

While the team is proud of its performance overall they are especially proud of their rope bridge skills. The goal is to transport eight team members across a river. When the captain says go, the team starts by double-checking their gear. Then they work together to zip line to the other side of an imaginary river. Teams competing at the national level cross a real river.

Eaton said the judges were impressed.

“They’d never seen a raw time like that,” Eaton said.

They completed the bridge in two minutes and one second. The average time is 2:45, he said.

Cadet Captain Ashely Hamilton, who competed in litter carrying, was nervous when they first arrived. But her fears dissipated once they started winning.

“We went in there and took first place,” she said. “It says a lot about our commitment and how disciplined we are to go out there and train every day. This is what we’ve been wanting.”