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Brains on the Battlefield

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Lyman’s JROTC team scores Academic Bowl national championship.

For a moment, it may have looked like the end of the line for Lyman High School’s Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) at the annual ROTC Leadership Academic Bowl National Championship this summer. The first quarter score: Lyman 10, New York state’s James I. O’Neill High School 40. In the infamous words of Yogi Berra, it was getting late early.

“Our guys never get rattled,” says retired Lieutenant Colonel Dan N. Clark, Ed.D., senior army ROTC instructor at Lyman. “When they are down, they are never out. They buckle down.”

That’s exactly what the team of Cadet Major Jordan Franks, Cadet Major Anthony Delpalazzo, Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Toth, and Cadet Sergeant First Class Angelica Sharkey did. They dug deep and persevered through the quiz competition. Final score: Lyman 225, James I. O’Neill 140. It was Lyman’s final victory in a 12-0 sweep of the Academic Bowl’s championship round hosted by Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

“We weren’t too stressed about it,” says senior Jordan Franks, this year’s captain. “Our strength is the give-and-take sections. We would usually be behind after the first quarter during the competition.”

This marked the second consecutive year Lyman was the top Army Academic Bowl team from Florida, and the first time that Lyman’s JROTC captured the Leadership Academic Bowl national championship, a program designed to improve ACT and SAT scores and leadership skills. Last year, the team placed seventh in the country. Jordan says the difference between last year and this year is the team simply dedicated more hours to studying.

The competition began with an online test for 1,700 JROTC teams nationwide. From there, 500 teams advanced to Level 2, from which 24 emerged to compete in the nation’s capital for all the marbles. The quiz-based competition features questions students would find on the ACT and SAT tests.

“The math questions are brutal, and you have 30 seconds to come up with an answer,” says Colonel Clark. However, he says Jordan has this gift of visualizing math problems and quickly calculating them in the air.

“Most of the time, when I do a math problem, I can’t keep up on paper, so I take to the air like the spelling bee kids,” says Jordan, 17, a Casselberry native.

This was Jordan’s third and final year of competition, his second as captain, but high-school seniors are no longer eligible to compete. When Jordan does graduate from Lyman next year, he is hoping to enter the University of Central Florida on an ROTC Scholarship, double majoring in computer tech and biochemistry.

Colonel Clark says, while Jordan will be missed, he is excited that Jordan’s younger brother is waiting in the wings. Anthony Delpalazzo and Joshua Toth are also seniors and not eligible to compete again. But Angelica Sharkey, a sophomore, will be part of the team for two more years.

“They are all such well-rounded students,” Colonel Clark says. “Tony has his eye on the Naval Academy. He may get a sports scholarship in football or wrestling.”

The four Lyman cadets are among the top three percent of high-school students in the country, all maintaining a 4.0 cumulative GPA and will receive either military academy appointments or four-year senior ROTC scholarships. Sponsored by the College Options Foundation and the Army, the Academic Bowl competition serves as prime recruiting grounds for military schools.

Colonel Clark, who served in the military for 31 years, has created a new focus within Lyman’s JROTC since arriving on the scene four years ago. He teaches cadets citizenship, ethics, and etiquette, plus a significant amount of time is spent on physical education. Under Colonel Clark’s leadership, Lyman’s program has become a highly sought-after elective.

“JROTC was once a place to put miscreants,” Colonel Clark says. “When I got here, I wanted to reinstate standards, especially the GPA. Now it’s a collective 2.97 [GPA requirement].”

Moreover, in the past three years, Colonel Clark’s cadets have earned 10 scholarships, and Lyman’s JROTC has become the largest program of its kind in Seminole County with 275 kids.

Lyman’s Academic Bowl team also received the Esprit de Corps Award following the competition, which honors the team that best demonstrates comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion. The team was chosen for its unselfish mentoring of other Florida teams, including the Gulf Coast High School cadets from Naples, who won the Leadership portion of the competition and made it to the final eight in the Academics Bowl.

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