The 2024 Junior ROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl: A Showcase of Excellence

  • Published
  • By Keith Bland, Headquarters Air Force Junior ROTC

Billed as the nation’s largest academic competition, the Junior ROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl convened on the campus of Catholic University from June 21-24. The event saw the top 16 Air Force Junior ROTC academic teams, along with 53 high school teams from other services representing the top 2% of cadets nationally, compete in a Jeopardy-like setting where teams of four cadets answered a variety of questions from across a broad range of academic subjects.

The competition, sponsored by the College Options Foundation and Army Junior ROTC, started last November with over 3,000 teams across all services. The Air Force fielded 686 teams in the Level I online competition. This number was reduced to 370 qualifying teams for the Level II competition, held online in February 2024. The top 16 teams advanced to the national finals in Washington, D.C.

The Air Force’s “Final Four” consisted of Valencia High School as the No. 1 seed, matched up against No. 4 seed Bedford High School, and North Quincy High School as the No. 2 seed facing No. 3 seed Billy Ryan High School. Valencia and North Quincy won their respective matches to face off in a tightly contested finals match, with Valencia prevailing on the final question to win the Air Force championship.

The Valencia team was comprised of four rising senior cadets: Emma Buliga, Joon Chang, Sean Dezell, and Tristan Simoncioni, all of whom are concurrently enrolled in the Academy of the Canyons, where they will earn an associate degree before they graduate high school.

When asked how participating in Air Force Junior ROTC had assisted in his development, Simoncioni said, “I think for me it’s just learning the real meaning behind determination and having grit. I started off the course as a sophomore and my teammates will tell you I was kind of troublesome as a first-year. People didn’t really take me seriously, and I didn’t even really take myself seriously at JROTC. And I think just developing and realizing what I want, and that if I want something, that I’m going to need to learn to grow and to have some determination to be able to achieve that end goal. And so JROTC and JLAB really did a lot towards making sure that I’m trying hard and putting effort into things that I want to achieve.”

The Valencia cadets also credited the critical role that their instructors, retired Major Jose Bareng and retired Master Sgt. Billie Legier played in their success. “I think throughout my time at JROTC, Sergeant and Major have both played a big role in making sure that I know that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to mess up sometimes. I remember my first event that I volunteered and led for this year – it was kind of a mess. I think that Major and Sergeant played a big role in getting me back on my feet and making sure that I spent the rest of the year continuing to grow,” said Simoncioni.

Dezell added, “I think they just show us what leadership is supposed to look like and what we’re supposed to grow towards.” Buliga agreed, stating that their instructors are “the top role models that we could possibly have in the corps, and they’re a constant source of encouragement, support and advice.”

Each service’s top team met in a “battle royale” for the title of JLAB National Champion. The Army Junior ROTC team from Gadsden City High School in Alabama emphatically claimed the 2024 title.

Besides the academic competition, JLAB provided several opportunities for the students to learn more about the nation’s history. For many students, this was their first trip to Washington D.C., where they toured monuments and museums.

Asked about his first impressions as the new Air Force Junior ROTC Director, Lt. Col Matthew Tipton remarked, “You hear so much these days about the issues surrounding America’s youth, but I’m here to tell you that these cadets are amazing individuals. I’m so impressed, not only with their incredible academic abilities, but even more so, with their professionalism and the way they carry themselves. It really gives me hope for our future.”

Junior ROTC is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world that is designed to educate and train high school cadets in citizenship, promote community service, instill personal responsibility, and develop self-discipline.