Air Force Junior ROTC cadets test navigation, teamwork skills at Orienteering Championships

  • Published
  • By Keith H. Bland, Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

Embodying author J.R.R. Tolkein’s maxim that, “Not all those who wander are lost,” cadets from nine high schools across five states competed in Air Force Junior ROTC’s National Orienteering Championships on February 23-24 at the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve in New Port Richey, Florida.

Cadets competed in a variety of divisions and courses over the two-day event to crown national champions, with the team from West Nassau High School in Callahan, Florida reigning supreme as the overall team National Champion.

Orienteering is a sport that involves navigating between checkpoints, called “controls”, in unfamiliar terrain using a map and compass. The route between controls is not marked, so participants must decide the best way to go. Competitors that complete all checkpoints with the fastest time prevail.

This year’s championships tripled the number of teams participating, demonstrating significant growth of the activity among AFJROTC units. Cadets and teams came from as far away as Keller, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland, and also included units from North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

The two-day event featured a total of six different courses of various lengths and difficulty, two courses per division. The freshmen cadets ran on “yellow” courses, totaling 5.9 kilometers for males and 4.7 kilometers for females. The “orange” junior varsity courses were 9 kilometers for males and 6.9 kilometers for females. Finally, the “green” varsity courses totaled 10.1 kilometers for males and 8.8 kilometers for females. The terrain varied between open grasslands, sandy singletrack, pine flatwoods, and Florida scrub.

The AFJROTC unit from Citrus High School (Fla.) served as the host unit. Their instructor, retired Master Sgt. Eric Brown said, “The thing I really like about orienteering, even though you’re out on the field by yourself--it’s the teamwork, the camaraderie that comes together.”

Course design, set-up, management, and timing were provided by the founder of Suncoast Orienteering and Adventure Racing, Gord Hunter, along with Florida Orienteering, led by Blaik Mathews. Wayne Barron, Headquarters AFJROTC Program Manager for Leadership Development, was on-hand to present the awards.

Cadet Connor Waller, a senior at Etowah High School (Ga.), won the varsity male National Championship with an aggregate time of 98 minutes and 43 seconds.  He discussed how he helped his team prepare for the events and adjust to different terrain and maps. He said orienteering has helped him “learn to think on your feet. It’s a lot of looking at the map, but you have to keep running while you’re doing it. You’re multi-tasking, and you can’t be side-tracked … it’s high intensity the entire way.”

Cadet Annabella Chavez, a sophomore at Waller High School (Texas), won the varsity female National Championship. When asked what life lessons orienteering had taught her, she responded, “You have to keep going—you can’t stop. You have to push yourself.” Asked about her experience in AFJROTC, she said, “What I love the most is the variety of opportunities it gives me.” Her unit at Waller offers a wide variety of co-curricular activities including drill team, marksmanship, archery, rocketry, drones, robotics, and a physical training team, in addition to orienteering. 

Orienteering is a vital aspect of Air Force Junior ROTC’s comprehensive leadership development program. By navigating challenging terrain under the pressure of competition, these high school cadets learn to solve problems, overcome personal discomfort, and develop discipline to achieve personal and team goals.

Here is the full list of awards. You can visit this link to the Florida Orienteering website for more details.

Team Awards:

• Overall:

1) West Nassau High School – AFJROTC National Champions

2) Etowah High School

3) Citrus High School

• Varsity “Green” Course:

1) Etowah High School

2) West Nassau High School

3) Waller High School  

• Junior Varsity “Orange” Course:

1) West Nassau High School

2) Etowah High School

3) Citrus High School

• Freshman “Yellow” Course:

1) West Nassau High School

2) Citrus High School

3) River Ridge High School

Individual Awards:

• Varsity Male:

1) Connor Lawlor, Etowah – AFJROTC National Champion

2) Justin Housend, West Nassau High School

3) Joshua Mauriello, Etowah High School

• Varsity Female:

1) Annabella Chavez, Waller High School – AFJROTC National Champion

2) Olivia Cauchon, West Nassau High School

3) Morgan Roscoe, Citrus High School

• Junior Varsity Male:

1) Shelton Fine, West Nassau High School

2) Justus Francis, Wekiva High School

3) Oliver Hartz, Etowah High School

• Junior Varsity Female:

1) Faith Harris, Crest High School

2) Kira Stroschein, West Nassau High School

3) Alexis Zakrzewski, West Nassau High School

• Freshman Male:

1) Nello Humphrey, West Nassau High School

2) Alexzander Michael, West Nassau High School

3) Cody Starling, West Nassau High School

• Freshman Female:

1) Gabby Pottinger, West Nassau High School

2) Isabella Eiras, West Nassau High School

3) Logan Kayser, West Nassau High School