The Oak Harbor High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Corps finished second in the “Best Unit in the Navy” competition, the Navy League announced Friday, June 26.
Vivian Gaither High School from Tampa Bay, Fla., earned the top spot out of the 611 schools. The competition included parts of two school years, running April 1, 2019, until March 31, 2020.
Oak Harbor, which is led by instructors Vince Quidachay (commander, USN, retired) and Bill Thiel (chief, USN, retired), reached the finals after being named the top unit in Area 13, which is the largest area geographically and includes 50 schools from 11 states, Japan and Guam.
Oak Harbor also earned first in the area in 2011-12; the second-place finish nationally is the best ever for the unit.
This is the second national title for Quidachay; he led a Texas high school to first in 2016 before moving to Oak Harbor two years ago.
Thiel was named VFW State Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020.
Oak Harbor’s lofty ranking was earned by its efforts in academics, leadership, community service and team competition.
Quidachay and Thiel said the unit was guided by four leaders: Commanding Officer Victor Zarata, Executive Officer Jaelyn O’Hara, Master Chief Trina Desquitado and Operations Officer Taylor Cress.
“Our top four kept things moving,” Thiel said. “All of our commanders knew what our expectations were and went after it.”
Quidachay labeled Zarata, who will attend Marquette University on an ROTC scholarship, as the “main driver.”
O’Hara received an appointment to the United States Coast Guard Academy. She picked the USCGA over an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and offers of Air Force and Navy ROTC scholarships to the University of Washington.
Supply Officer Andrew Dixon received an Army ROTC scholarship from Washington State University, and Cadet Anna Jones a Navy Prep ROTC scholarship from the University of Idaho.
In all, Oak Harbor cadets received more than $1.6 million in service academy appointments and ROTC scholarships, according to Quidachay.
In other academic activity, Oak Harbor’s team at the JROTC Language Aptitude Battery Test (SAT-type questions) advanced to Level II for the first time this year.
Oak Harbor also sent three teams to the Area Brain Brawl and another three to the Cyber Patriot, with one team reaching the platinum round.
Underclassmen also provided important contributions to Oak Harbor’s second-place finish. The Wildcats received help from rising seniors and next school year’s officers: Commanding Officer Lawrence Zapata, Executive Officer Thomas Carman, Master Chief Skye Kawi and Operations Officer James Hart.
“They played a big part in this year’s success,” Quidachay said, “as well as those who graduated in 2019, particularly Taylor Kester.”
As for community service, Oak Harbor is eager to help when asked by a variety of local clubs like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Navy League and Chamber of Commerce, according to Thiel.
“We are often the only organization they need to ask,” Thiel said.
The Wildcats performed more than 2,200 service hours this past year.
“The mission of the Oak Harbor NJROTC program is to provide opportunities for students to become leaders,” Quidachay said.
“I asked some of the athletes if they used the leadership skills they learned in ROTC in their sports, and they said, ’absolutely.’”
In addition, eight cadets took part and graduated from the recent Northwest Leadership Academy.
In team competition, the Olympic Division champion Wildcat Battalion was on its way to winning its fifth regional title in eight years when the season was cut short by the coronavirus.
The armed and unarmed drill teams have not lost a divisional match in two years, and the marksmanship team qualified for the all-service national tournament.
The Wildcats also field a 24-person orienteering team.
Oak Harbor’s second-place finish in the national ranking was bolstered by help from parent volunteers and strong support from the Navy, community and school district.
“The school district will bend over backward for us,” Thiel said. “If other schools had the same support we have from our administration, they wouldn’t struggle.”
“We have a strong legacy,” Quidachay said. “When you have a strong legacy, parents want to send their kids through the program.”
“It is like a second family,” Thiel added.