By RICK WAGNER

BLOUNTVILLE — Sports and band won’t be the only extracurricular and cocurricular programs merging when West Ridge opens in August.

Sullivan County’s new high school will have an Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) made up of members of existing Navy and Air Force JROTC units.

That means the county school system will have one Air Force program at West Ridge and will keep the existing Navy program at Sullivan East High.

West Ridge, to be a merger of students from Sullivan South, North and Central high schools, will have an AFJROTC program as chosen by Director of Schools David Cox last year.

“That decision was made several months ago,” school board Chairman Randall Jones said recently. “It was up to the director of schools, and he announced it at a school board meeting.”

Retired Master Sgt. Don Shawver and retired Lt. Col. Jack Rickman, currently at Sullivan South, “will be the instructors,” Shawver said recently with “99.99%” certainty.

“The program is transferring from South to West Ridge,” Cox said recently. “If we had gone with a Navy program at West Ridge, we would have had two Navy programs and no Air Force program.”

In addition, Cox said the choice made sense because of the close proximity of Northeast State Community College, which has aviation programs, and Tri-Cities Airport.

Shawver said he and Rickman got word of the decision around May and already have visited the unfinished building to see the space being made for the JROTC program. Rickman is the senior aerospace science instructor and Shawver the aerospace science instructor.

“It’s going to be the Air Force,” Shawver said.

However, he emphasized that doesn’t mean North students from the Navy JROTC program will be left out in the cold.

“They get to keep any ribbons they’ve earned and the rank they’ve earned,” Shawver said, adding that leadership roles would be spread.

However, for the first semester, he said, the leadership likely would be a former South Air Force JROTC member with a deputy commander from the North Navy JROTC, giving time for the former Navy JROTC members to get their uniforms in order and adapt to the Air Force program.

Shawver said he hopes for a large JROTC program at West Ridge, a school designed for 1,700 students but with projections showing 1,900 to 2,000 students for its inaugural year.

School architect Dineen West said the enrollment is predicted to start out higher and then decline to about 1,700 in a few years.

South has about 75 members of the Air Force JROTC and North about 40 members of Navy JROTC, Shawver said, adding that the programs are around 10% of the total enrollment. Central does not have a JROTC program, but Central students have been allowed to participate in South’s program.

JROTC is cocurricular, meaning it is a class and also has after-school and weekend activities, while athletics are extracurricular programs.

Elsewhere in the region, Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport has the Air Force, Tennessee High in Bristol and Science Hill in Johnson City both have the Army, while Volunteer and Cherokee high schools in Hawkins County both have Navy programs. In Washington County, Davy Crockett High has Navy, while Boone has the Marines.

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