Long Island City teens shine at ROTC contest

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Wealthier, more experienced teams were condescending to the hardscrabble teens from western Queens, who scraped together the cash themselves for their first visit to the National High School Drill Team Championship.

At the largest and most prestigious drill tournament in the country, they competed among 145 teams in four different armed and unarmed events: unit inspections, color guard presentations, and squad and platoon exhibitions. The cadets were judged on their appearance, military knowledge and precision while executing complex marching and rifle maneuvers.

"At first they laughed at us," said 1st Sgt. Luis Philip Gonzalez, their instructor. "And at the end, they didn't even want to say hi."

That's because the 40-member team, which could not afford to make the trip last year, took the competition by storm, trumping nearly 70 teams for first place in the unarmed contest, and eighth place in rifle drills.

The Long Island City HS teens were divided into the girl's team, which competed in the unarmed event, and the armed boy's team, "The Sons of Liberty."

"I can't believe these kids won," Gonzalez said, adding that he had humble expectations for his program that is less than two years old.

"They have been hungry for this since last year when we didn't have the money to go," he said.

The team had raised $24,000 since September to cover air fare, registration fees and accommodations. They sold candy, dogtags and juice during school and sought out community sponsors. State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), a Long Island City High School alumnus, kicked in $6,000 for the campaign. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also pledged a few thousand, Gonzalez said.

The campaign drive set Long Island City HS apart and gave them an edge over their competition.

Francesca Gutierrez, a sophomore, recalled being unable to connect with other squads at their Daytona Beach hotel.

"We started talking at the pool about how we had to raise money and they didn't have to raise anything," Gutierrez said.

"We asked one school how they got the money and they told us their parents paid for it," said Ramon Zorrilla, a junior.

"They were like, 'raise money?'" said Brooke Tallarita, a sophomore.

"'What's that?'" chimed in Gutierrez.

When the girl's squad, "The Daughters Liberty," squared off against those teams on April 30, they proved that the harder something is worked for, the more it is appreciated.

The boys, who came in eighth, may have been outshone by the girls, but they said their victory was a boon for the entire squad. The guys even helped them haul home their giant trophies.

"They're awesome - outstanding," said Ioannis "Sarge" Petradellis, a sophomore. "They're the best. I'm proud of them."

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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