More and more, the emphasis in JROTC for "co-curricular" activities have been physical activities. The Navy Junior ROTC programs have ALWAYS had an emphasis on a well balanced attack that included athletics as a part of their well-rounded field meets. These Navy teams generally maintain sprinting, push-ups/curl-ups and other arduous tasks. But more and more, "Raider teams" have become a huge push within all-service events. Long led by and still continuing to be dominated by Army JROTC programs primarily in the southeastern USA, Raider teams have begin springing up everywhere across the nation in JROTC with the Marine Corps JROTC starting to exert their own dominance in some pockets of the country. In some ways Raider cadets are the ULTIMATE athletic all-around teams competing in cerebral and physical tests that push the bounds of physical limitations. Requiring teamwork and strategy and brute force and grit, Raider teams lead the charge into a new era of physical competitions in JROTC. Combine all this with Marine Corps teams who have always been "PT Hounds" as well as a huge new push within Air Force JROTC for the same and you can see the direction the country is heading.
The National JROTC Fitness Challenge or the "Fitness Nationals" as it has quickly grown to be called started from a confluence of several factors that made the formation of the event a natural outgrowth of many related and unrelated circumstances. Raider teams looking for a competitive outlet, Navy JROTC programs that do not qualify for their service Championships in Pensacola but have exceptional athletic teams and want to give their cadets a big pat on the back for a year of hard work, and teams that have PT teams that simply feel like this event is tailor-made for their prowess will all come together to compete in Mat for the "Battle of the Beach".
Cadets who are encouraged to be on physical groups like the Athletic/PT teams have higher self-esteem, higher levels of happiness and develop better socialization and problem solving skills their those who do not. This, combined with the fact that roughly 45% of all Junior ROTC cadets historically join some form of active duty or reserve component of the military within five years of high school graduation makes the general fitness of tomorrows leaders, be it civilian or military, an item that many can get behind for a multitude of different reasons.
The Fitness Challenge Championships are a carefully thought out compilation of FIVE differing events that will test small groups of 12 cadet teams. Strategy must be in play always to determine which 9 best cadets enter into each of the five events, yielding three substitutes at all times. The Pull-up/Flexed Arm Hang component is largely a strength to body weight event that requires much work to become successful within. The Standing Broad Jump component tests explosive powerful abilities, flexibility and PRACTICE to pay huge dividends for yourself and the team. The 3K Team Run will test cardiovascular endurance and capacity. As a team event, the "weakest link" will determine the final team time so building a solid GROUP of ten SOLID runners is the way to success. This run will be a solid balance for the full on strength-only component of the Seated Power Throw with a 4+ pound ball from the chest. Then of course the final event of the day is the crowd pleasing Physical Team Test. This event is the compilation of all items that make this event great. EIGHT different components that require physical skills as well as a mental approach to the event that completes the course in the fast team time.
Fitness Challenge events are specifically designed far less dangerous in comparison to their ROTC-level parallels because Junior ROTC is about citizenship, leadership and physical, mental and emotional wellness. ROTC is a program designed to provide officers into the U.S. military. The missions of these two programs are completely different and are taught completely differently. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the events we maintain in the JROTC Fitness Challenge while difficult are different as well.
Rules can be very different for Fitness competitions depending on where you live and where you compete but in general, Fitness or PT competitions are designed for a small group of physically fit and mentally tough cadets to compete in various outdoor activities preferably in a very primitive, challenging location.
After consulting with MANY sources, some JROTC programs feel the Fitness Championships are not as challenging as it should be physically. Conversely, a few instructors feel the event as designed is too physically demanding. Some schools think it should be more cerebral with more intelligence-based events included like land navigation. Fortunately, much like the three bears, most schools think the Fitness Championships are just about right!
Most schools who have fitness programs in some incarnation involve males and females, but in general there are more males that participate than females. Most have a male team and almost as many have a mixed team. Some bigger schools also offer a separate female team, or any combination depending on the number of cadets within to participate (NOTE: The Fitness Championships currently OFFER a Female Division begun in 2020, along with Male and Mixed Divisions. All teams are 12 cadets with 9 competing in any one event. As the competitive sport of the Fitness Challenge gains more and more interest, the other three services will likely gain more talent and traction! Regardless, competing in a true JROTC-only Fitness Championship is a great way for JROTC cadets to stay mentally and physically in shape. Mostly, it is the most mega-hooah activity in all of JROTC!
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