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EXPLORERS CAPTURE FIRST PLACE

The recent high school graduates all hope to enter law enforcement.

At last year's state Police Explorers competition, Explorer Maj. Conor Ryan was so nervous he could barely walk.

A year later, the 17-year-old led his Pasco County Sheriff's Office team to first place in the competition, which tested 25 Explorer posts on their ability to handle eight mock crimes.

"With all that training, you just kick into a different mode," Ryan said Tuesday, three days after the competition in Fort Myers ended. "You're not that nervous."

"Doing it was just doing your job," agreed Explorer Capt. Alex Acevedo, 19, his eyes fixed on the 2-foot silver traveling trophy. The last time the Pasco Explorer Post had its name engraved on the trophy was 2001.

Team members eked out their victory by half a point, earning second place in four events, one third-place trophy and one fifth-place trophy.

The five team members are recent graduates of local high schools and are heading to college this year. All hope to become law enforcement officers, despite the sobering news that greeted them a few days after returning from Fort Myers: that two Tampa police officers had been fatally shot.

In fact, Ryan was riding along with a Pasco deputy early Tuesday morning when he first heard the news.

"There wasn't much we were able to do in Pasco, but I was just really struck," Ryan said. "I didn't know how to react. It was really sad."

Ryan and some of the other Explorers regularly receive e-mails about attacks on law enforcement officers across the country, situations they study so they can learn to avoid harm when they become officers, he says.

Defensive training is just part of the Explorers program, which lets Explorers shadow deputies and take the reins in simulated crime scenes. Responding to mock crimes made up the bulk of the events at the state competition.

In one scenario, they confiscated drugs from an airplane that had been used to smuggle them. In another, they investigated a domestic battery scene, according to their senior adviser, School Resource Officer Cpl. Doug Theodore.

Theodore says he expected his Explorers to take home nothing less than the second-place trophy. He trained them accordingly, creating tougher scenarios than they would see at the competition. He also brought in other Explorers from Pinellas County and St. Petersburg for a scrimmage.

After last year's team of newcomers finished fourth, Ryan, Acevedo and Explorer Lt. John Jaufmann, 18, returned for a second year. Their new teammates, Explorer Sgt. Ben Udden, 18, and Explorer Lt. Samuel Sculerati, 17, said training and the desire not to disappoint their teammates kept them from feeling like Ryan last year - weak at the knees.

"I didn't want to let my teammates down," Sculerati, the alternate, said. "I trust them."

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