The cadets marched in step wearing crisp blue uniforms. One barked orders: "right wheel march," "right flank march." Two carried flags. Two carried guns. Feet like a metronome hit the pavement in time.
Like his fellow Army JROTC cadets, Bluffton High School sophomore Dallas Whitaker had been running this routine in his head for months. It's practice but also pride. It's a taste of life in the service. He plans to enlist in either the Army or the Marine Corps.
"Whatever comes to me first," he said.
In the meantime, Dallas and his fellow cadets can practice. And locally they can show their dedication at the Superintendent's Cup, the inaugural event held Friday at Battery Creek High School.
The day brought together the school district's JROTC programs for tests of skill, endurance and precision. Cadets ran foot races, competed in sit-up, chin-up and push-up contests, marched their color guards and platoon drills, and took tests on first-aid knowledge. But perhaps one contest topped them all in terms of mind-numbing challenge -- the Dizzy Izzy. Cadets sprinted a short distance and then spun themselves 10 times with a nose to a PVC pipe implanted in the ground. Once spun silly, they sprint back, elbows and knees flying out of sync.
Senior Darrin Sawn, part of the winning Beaufort High School team, figured it out. Take short, choppy steps when spinning, allowing yourself to finish quicker. He still wore a smile minutes after the competition ended, his day done.
"The legs are a little tight, but you can't help but feel good," he said.
He only knew a few other boys from the competing squads -- guys he ran track with. Overall, this was the first time all of the county JROTC programs had been in the same place at the same time.
"It's good to get out of school and see everyone, meet some new people," he said.
The day ended in a four-way tug of war, a square of rope with four ends. Each team of six tugged amid deafening cheers until Bluffton High School claimed victory.
But the win wasn't enough for Bluffton High to tip the balance in the overall rankings. Battery Creek High was crowned the Superintendent's Cup champion.
"I think the kids had a fantastic time," said Lt. Col. Ray Ganas, senior Marine instructor at Battery Creek. "They got to meet each other for the first time. I think this will bode well for JROTC programs in the county."
The idea for the competition came from Beaufort County school superintendent Valerie Truesdale and instructional services chief Sean Alford before the year began.
The two were on hand to give out the cup, a gleaming silver trophy that will be passed from winner to winner throughout the years.
The day was just for fun. But it was an indication of what JROTC meant in the students' lives.
"This day is what our military is all about -- cooperation, collaboration, competition and winning," Truesdale told the crowd. "It shows your character."