A Queens drill team left high and dry in September has taken back the national title.
Francis Lewis High School’s unarmed team earned an almost perfect score May 6 at the 31st annual National High School Drill Team Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“It brings tears to my eyes thinking back to how hard they worked,” said their coach, retired Sgt. 1st Class Helen Batts. “Their dedication, loyalty and hard work—they poured their hearts into it.”
The annual competition drew more than 50 schools nationwide. Francis Lewis last sat at the top in 2009.
But with six outgoing senior spots to fill, the team took a blow in the fall when four seasoned drillers left and new members began to drop like flies.
“The team was actually suffering,” Batts said. “In September, I did not see a very productive future for them.”
Leaders put their hopes into a batch of bright-eyed rookies. Four freshmen had less than six months to learn and perfect multiple routines and memorize page after page of military facts.
“I looked at them and saw their strength,” Batts recalled. “I said, ‘You are the four.’ They said to me, ‘We’ll be ready next year.’ I said, ‘No, ma’am. You’re going to bring it this year.’ It just took off from there.”
The freshmen found themselves part of a historical victory. A Francis Lewis team had never before landed a national title with that many new members, Batts said.
Co-captain Jasmine Fung said she was fearful at first, but put her effort into training the freshmen.
“We pushed them the hardest, up until the point where they started crying,” she said. “But they really pulled it off. I’m so proud of them.”
Freshman competitor Christi Mahilum said the four fledglings were skyrocketed to a higher standard.
“We were about to give up somewhere in the middle,” said Mahilum, 15. “But it was worth it.”
News of the triumph came as a shock to the now reigning champs, who placed sixth—their lowest rank in years—at a competition in Kentucky last month.
“It was a wake-up call for us to get into shape,” said Fung, 17. “It was like, ‘Hey. It’s time to get your act together.’”
The team regularly clocked 26 hours of practice in a week, including six hours on Saturday. They forced themselves to come in one hour before school each day, Fung said.
Their hunger for a top trophy was satisfied. The Patriot Pride took home the gold by six points.
“I think that the freshmen didn’t pull it off alone,” said freshman Ashley Chan. “But it feels good to be recognized because we were the underdogs of the team.”
Mahilum, now an experienced driller, said she’s excited to finally take a breath—until next season.
“It feels really good to have helped the team get to where we are now,” she said.