Oak Ridge Military Academy's girls armed drill team, led by a Lawrence 17-year-old, won a national championship last weekend.
During the National High School Drill Team Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., the 14-member North Carolina girls team captured five first-place trophies, culminating with the presentation of the national championship trophy, which stands 6-feet-4.
Jessica Maher, a Lawrence girl who started her education at Oak Ridge in eighth grade, won the Commander's Trophy.
"I really put my mind to working hard for that," Jessica said during a telephone interview.
Winning the national championships was truly exciting, Jessica said.
"It was unbelievable," said Jessica, who is battalion commander of the 250-student military school for sixth- through 12th-graders.
Before the competition, she and the other senior girls had told team members that they knew they could win it all.
"It's kind of one of those things you tell people, just hoping they'll do their best," said Jessica, who graduates in three weeks and plans to attend Kansas University next year.
Her team's motivation and discipline made the difference, Jessica said.
The boys' drill team from Oak Ridge placed 11th in the national competition, which included 55 schools.
The girls' team unseated the five-time national champions, the Belles of the Blue Knights from Enterprise, Ala.
"They just blew everybody away," Lt. Col. Gary Blackburn said of the 4-year-old team. "Essentially, they went into this competition, and no one gave them any chance at all."
Among those watching the competition was Jessica's mother, Dr. Mary Vernon, a Lawrence physician.
"The school deserves the credit and she deserves the credit because she's the one who did the work," Vernon said.