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Union Grove third in National Brain Brawl

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Union Grove High School Navy JROTC cadet, Anthony Ciccarello, agonizes over an incorrect answer during an early round of the National Brain Brawl Championship. Ciccarello is flanked by teammates Truman New (left) and Justin Shuffler (right).

Photo by Johnny Jackson Union Grove High School Navy JROTC cadet, Anthony Ciccarello, agonizes over an incorrect answer during an early round of the National Brain Brawl Championship. Ciccarello is flanked by teammates Truman New (left) and Justin Shuffler (right).

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The competition grew more intense as the digital clock counted down closer, and closer, to zero.

"I just want to place in the top four," said Truman New, a cadet lieutenant commander in the Union Grove High School Navy JROTC Program.

Union Grove's academic team, indeed, progressed into the final round of the 2011 National Brain Brawl Championship, the first nationwide academic bowl for Navy JROTC Programs.

"You don't think academics is exciting, but being up there is exciting," said New, his team's expert on naval science and ship-board technology.

The team of five -- senior, New, sophomores, Anthony Ciccarello and Justin Shuffler, along with freshmen, William Renner and Justin Smith -- survived four rounds of competition.

New said the team has put in as many as 80 hours practicing at school, over the course of the school year. "They're hard-working," New said of his younger teammates. "You give up a lot for JROTC, but it feels good to accomplish something. Some teams have one know-it-all,, but we have an actual team, and that's why we do so well."

The senior cadet led his young team to successes a few weeks earlier, earning a third-place finish in the Area 12 (Georgia-Florida) Brain Brawl Championships. However, on May 21, his team was pitted against stiff competition -- 16 top teams from Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Indiana, and California.

"It was probably the most exciting event that I have attended in my 11 years in JROTC," said Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Andrews, who commands Union Grove's Navy JROTC academic teams.

Bishop Kinney High School, out of Jacksonville, Fla., was declared the winner of the 2011 National Brain Brawl Championship, by overtaking North Cobb High School, of Kennessaw, Ga., to win 125 to 120. Union Grove finished a close third, according to Andrews.

"The lead changed three times in the last 30 seconds," said Andrews. "There were 15 points between the first-and third-place teams, that's just [a] two-question difference.

"I'm never satisfied, unless we win first place, but I am excited they did a good job," he continued. "They were outstanding under pressure."

The competition was hosted by the Henry County High School Navy JROTC Program, which was bestowed the title of National Distinguished Unit with Academic Honors earlier this year.

"It's a big honor to be chosen out of 700 schools in the nation," said Capt. Steve Seal, who commands the Henry County High School Navy JROTC Program.

Seal said the school also hosted the Area 12 (Georgia-Florida) Brain Brawl Championships on April 30, from which three Georgia teams advanced to the nationals.

"We want to put our kids in the position to be able to compete with anybody, be it academics, athletics, or whatever," said Seal. "The biggest hurdle is making them believe, and instilling confidence in them."

Union Grove's Navy JROTC cadets have gained confidence over the past year. Lt. Cmdr. Andrews said the 174-member unit and its various team components competed in seven national championships. The unit had three first-place finishes, a third-place finish, a fourth-place finish, a fifth-place finish, and a ninth-place finish.

Andrews said the program's air rifle team finished fourth in the Navy JROTC National Air Rifle Championship, and fifth in the Joint JROTC National Championship, coming in first among Navy JROTC programs competing in the joint contest. The school's drill team finished ninth at the Navy National Academic, Athletic, and Drill Championships, and won the overall athletic portion of the competition.

Union Grove's orienteering team is given credit for the unit's 2011 national title, having won the Navy JROTC National Orienteering Championships, Joint JROTC National Orienteering Championship, and Interscholastic (High School) National Orienteering Championship, added the lieutenant commander.

"It's over until June 1," Andrews said," and then, we start training for next year."