There are some terrific athletes at Bolivar High School, but not all of them are wearing the typical athletic uniforms and competing before the typical audience.

I was privileged to see some in action last Saturday in Ozark, where 36 teams from 10 schools and one squad of middle-aged men were competing in eight different events that required great endurance, strength, determination and teamwork.

And all but the middle-aged men were doing it dressed in military fatigues and boots.

The Bolivar Air Force JROTC unit had already earned my respect with the manner in which the colors are displayed during the performing of the National Anthem at local sporting events. But seeing our five teams in competition at the Ozark Raider Fitness Crucible broadened that respect immensely.

I have no doubt that many of our athletes in the more traditional “sports” could train for and compete well in the Raider events, but any who witnessed what I did would have to admit that they, too, would have a new-found respect for those involved — the kind of respect that might invoke positive change with how they interact with one another thereafter.

An Ozark cross country runner could perhaps verify that for us. When one of their normal Raider participants couldn’t compete, the team reached out to other athletes in the school to find one willing to take on the challenge without having trained specifically for it. I strongly suspect that the willing substitute found running around the track in a relay with a 45-pound pack on her back, and wearing combat boots, was quite unlike her normal training. And that was just one event.

Just think army basic training without the drill sergeant berating the participants. The tasks were grueling, but the voices were all positive, mostly from teammates urging each other along.

The teamwork was something to behold, quite like what would be necessary in battle. No individual feat was recorded or scored. For instance, in the 5k run (3.1 miles), which came seventh in the order of eight events, it would not have meant anything for our fastest athlete to cross the finish line several minutes ahead of his/her teammates. The team time was recorded as when the last member crossed the line. So there was merit in running in a pack of four, all urging each other to move forward as fast and as efficiently as they could as a unit.

It helped me make sense of what I had seen during the huge college and high school cross country meet here the Saturday before, as some coaches encouraged their runners to stay together and work as a team.

(That event was quite impressive, too, with 1,400 or so runners and many more people in total when counting parents and other spectators. What other Bolivar athletic event could compare favorably to that as an economic driver?)

Finally, the JROTC competition also served as a reminder of something I learned — not the hard way, fortunately — much earlier in life when it came to competing or pondering thoughts of a fight: Never judge opponents by their appearance or by what you may think of their general demeanor. The most unlikely in appearance might earn your respect in a manner that leaves you quite humbled.

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