Drill team sets sights on successful future


Photo by Nathan Hawkins

Drill team practices marching in unison for upcoming competitions.

6:00 a.m. While many of us are sleeping, some students are wide awake and at school. For the next hour and a half they’ll be hard at work marching, tossing rifles, and coming up with the perfect routine that they will compete with for the next three months.

Those students are members of the drill team, a competitive team coached by Col. Scott Vanderhoof in which JROTC members showcase their ability through advanced routines that involve advanced marching, tossing and spinning rifles and complex formations.

Vanderhoof, who is in his fourth year of coaching the drill team, recognizes the responsibility he has as coach.

“It’s such a big deal for the JROTC to coach the drill team,” Vanderhoof said.

The reason it is a big deal is because the drill team for Bellevue West is one of honor and tradition. For 40 plus years, the drill team has existed at Bellevue West. For years and years they were one of the top drill teams around, but it hasn’t been that way lately. The Thunderbird drill team wants to return to their glory days.

“I would like to get to the point where we’re the team that everybody looks out for,” Vanderhoof said.  “We used to be that way, and for some reason we have fallen off a bit.”

Even though their success isn’t what it once was, the strive for success isn’t lacking.

“I’d like to be grand champion in every meet,” Vanderhoof said. “And then this year qualify for nationals and then go there next year, which is in Daytona, Florida.”

Senior Ben Bochtler, who is the overall armed exhibition commander, doesn’t just want to go to nationals, he wants to win it all.

“I know it’s a long road timewise and we’re competing against some of the best Air Force teams that the United States has to offer,” Bochtler said. “But I hope to prepare them so that when they do go to Daytona for all serve nationals, that they definitely get to walk up in front of the whole world, and accept that award.”

The team’s path to nationals is still distant, as the competition stage of the season is just beginning. But for months now, they have been putting in the work to get there.

In September, tryouts for the drill team were held. Then once the teams were finalized, practice began in early October. Every day. From 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Bochtler said that although waking up at these hours can be hard, being their for practice every day is important.

“It does make it difficult when you just have to get up and the alarm goes off at 4:00 in the morning and the only thing you want to do is just hit snooze or turn it off and go back to sleep.” Bochtler said, “What get’s me up and causes me to come to school is I think about all the other boys and girls that get up. They’re gonna be here on time giving it their all, so why can’t I?”

Bochtler’s job isn’t easy, as he is in charge of coming up with an original eight minute routine. To do that, Bochtler must not only be creative, but attentive to detail, as he must make sure everyone is doing what they need to be doing at a high level.

“I have to make sure that everything runs smoothly during practice.” Bochtler said, “I have to design and teach the routine itself. So I make sure that all the spins look good, and I make sure everybody knows the routine. And I make sure the routine is strong for competition. It’s not always easy, but I enjoy it all.”

Although performing the routine is hard, Vanderhoof says that the more important part may be in memorizing it.

“It’s all memorization,” Vanderhoof said,  “They basically have counts and they count the entire routine. Every step. So it’s very interesting to watch them do it and to watch them learn, and to see how they come up with something.”

Memorization won’t do much without dedication, as putting in the work to remember and perform the routine is very important.

“If they’re not dedicated, then pretty much they’re just standing on the side watching,” Vanderhoof said. “Once they get the passion, then they become very dedicated. In fact a lot of folks come back to coach after they graduate, it’s something that’s in their blood I guess. They love to do it.”

As the leader of the armed exhibition team, Bochtler’s dedication and passion are never in question. Over his three years at Bellevue West, he has made friendships with the members of the team that he leads, which makes his hard job that much easier.

“I would do anything for these boys.” Bochtler said, “I’ve traveled with this team for three years now, and everyday just myself and all these people getting up, shows just how devoted they are to this. It really does take a lot of devotion. But I don’t mind it with this team.”

The drill team’s next meet is Saturday, March 4 at Blue Springs High School in Kansas City, MS.