For five of the last six years, the Central High School NJROTC has been rated as either the first- or second-place unit in the nation. The team recently earned Most Outstanding NJROTC Unit Area 7 (most of Florida), putting them in the running for yet another national honor. "Now, we're waiting," said cadet Capt. Erica Aguiar, 18, regimental executive officer. "This year we attended four national competitions. Just going to one is a big deal."
Winning first place this year would be very significant for Central because, said cadet Capt. Louis Petro, 17, cadet master chief, "Nobody's ever been two years in a row at No. 1."
The Central NJROTC unit - led by instructors Lt. Col. Michael Ralph, Master Chief Bruce Kennedy and Master Sgt. Janice Brooks - was first in the nation in 2006 and 2010. It was second in the nation in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
Only one other school has been best in the nation two times, but not consecutively. "(It's) hard," Aguiar said, "because it tends to be a little political."
"And," added cadet Capt. Dan Wilson, 17, commanding officer, "no other school has been consistently in the top like we have."
Still, Wilson said, the statistics the unit has will make it hard not to be named the best in the nation. Besides attending the national competitions, the unit is 20 percent of Central's student body with 320 members.
The school's valedictorian (cadet Cmdr. Mallori Brooks, battalion commander), and salutatorian (Petro) are members of NJROTC. The area's two Legion of Valor recipients were both from Central.
The members of the unit have excelled outside of the program: They have performed more than 10,739 community service hours; 162 cadets are honor roll students and 107 are on the high honor roll; 12 cadets are captains of school athletic teams; and 20 cadets serve as officers in school clubs, such as student government, National Honor Society, BETA, yearbook and Key Club.
Wilson, Petro and Aguiar are graduating and are among the 80 percent of NJROTC students who have college plans. Wilson has a 3.9 grade point average and will attend the University of Florida on a Navy scholarship to study mechanical engineering. Petro's GPA is 4.45 and he will attend the University of Pennsylvania on a Navy scholarship to study computer engineering and mathematics. Aguiar has a 4.31 GPA and plans to study English with a focus on publishing at the University of Florida.