Waimea Junior ROTC aiming for the stars

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Part of the Waimea High School Robotics team, including seated from left Joveline Alvarez, Kathleen Alvarez and Jaslen Valdez, and, standing from left Kylan Constantino, Edwin Pinkston, Aliyah Taba, Hope Newton, Jhames Ragus and Erich Borbos, show off their under-construction robots Tuesday in the school library.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Waimea High School students Kathleen Alvarez and Jhames Ragus assemble one of the robot frames Tuesday in the school library.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Sisters Joveline and Kathleen Alvarez walk through the launch of a disc by the robot Tuesday at the Waimea High School library.

WAIMEA — The Waimea High School Robotics team is under the Junior ROTC program, said Maj. Victor Aguilar of the Waimea Junior ROTC Tuesday at the school’s library.

“We picked up the program last year,” Aguilar said. “This is another level of education the students get. Last year, the Robotics team was all-JROTC. This year, the program is open to all the students.”

Waimea student Kathleen Alvarez said they are running out of time because the scrimmages start next week, and the finals take place at the end of the month, all virtually through Zoom.

“Did she tell you she and her sister Joveline went to the World Competition for robotics?” Aguilar asked. “We’re running out of time, and it was the students’ idea to meet and work on the robots. The students were out in the morning putting up flags to decorate the Waimea town for Election Day. We need to take them down this afternoon, so the students suggested we work on the robots in the time between.”

Aguilar said a lot of the Junior ROTC activities have been relegated to virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the robotics competition, where the tournaments have disappeared from the in-person battlefields to the realm of Zoom meetings.

The virtual world also produced a Junior ROTC comparative report that has Waimea Junior ROTC being the top unit out of 43 units statewide.

“The Menehune JROTC unit has the highest enrollment of all the units — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — in the state, at 192 cadets,” Aguilar said.

“The next closest unit is Moanalua High School with 171 students out of 2,013 students in the school. Waimea only has 694 students enrolled. Kapa‘a High School, the other school on Kaua‘i with a JROTC program, has 62 students enrolled.”

Another standout feature of the Menehune Junior ROTC unit is they are the only unit in the state that has more female students (98 students) registered than male students (94 students), Aguilar said.

“My family got me interested in the program,” said Jhames Ragus. “My brother, my cousin, they were part of the program. When I started, I wasn’t really interested. But being in the program has made me change the way I see things, and also made me change physically and mentally. I can see a future in this.”

Waimea Junior ROTC has always shown strong against other units in Hawai‘i.

“Last year, we were cheated out by the pandemic after we were the only unit in Hawai‘i to earn eligibility to the JROTC Leadership Academic Bowl that is considered to be the Super Bowl of the JROTC,” Aguilar said. “The Menehune qualified in both the leadership and academic phases. This would’ve been an all-expense trip to Washington, D.C. before the COVID-19 shut down the trip.”

Two former Waimea Junior ROTC students are currently doing well in collegiate riflery competition at Schreiner University in Texas.

“Shannon Caoagdan and Norie Mae Ramirez ended up at the national competition last year,” Aguilar said. “Now, as first-year shooters with the Mountaineers, they’re posting scores in the 90s in the standing position. Norie Mae had one match where she scored 98, just two points shy of a perfect 100.”

Aguilar, who coaches the Robotics team with Skylkar Lassman and Kawika Wellington, said the goal has always been to push the limits of student achievement.

“One of our students, Wyatt Hartsell, has already won a JROTC four-year scholarship in the first round,” Aguilar said. “His brother Devon is about to graduate West Point, and Wyatt is holding out for a West Point appointment. But he’s already got his school covered for four years.”

With just days before the first robotics scrimmage start, Aguilar is aiming to bring some of these achievements to the robotics team.

“This is a new level of education,” Aguilar said. “We have a good core team, including the Alvarez sisters, who have been to world. We just have to wait and see what happens.”

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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