Sports Editor’s note: With everything going on in our country, RDR Sports wanted to do a positive story about this great country of ours. We hope you enjoy the local flavor of our young men and women that mean so much to us, and are a vital part of community sports here in Roswell and Chaves County. We at RDR Sports hope you all are having a great holiday.
What football fans don’t see before a Goddard or Roswell football game at the Wool Bowl is the south end zone of the field. Standing fully dressed in their uniform and shiny shoes are the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Academy Color Guard.
The color guard is lined up straight across in a row. Two cadets have rifles, one cadet has the flag of the United States, another cadet has the flag of New Mexico and the fifth cadet has the Youth ChallenNGe flag. The ChalleNGe flag represents where they are from. The cadets listen to Master Sgt. Louis Vizcarrando during his third year of being in charge. He is speaking commands in a low, volumed tone: left, right, left, as they march out their steps to get their timing.
Vizcarrando is using his voice with the right inflection as his team moves with the precision of the honor guard. Roswell has come to look forward to their pregame marching to mid-field before the start of a local football game.
Vizcarrando spent eight years in the Marine Corps and has worked as a corrections officer. Vizcarrando wanted a change in life but was looking for a place of order and discipline, with a chance to help kids. A friend suggested the Youth ChalleNGe Academy. He has worked there since Jan. 15, 2015.
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Vizcarrando was concerned about the New Mexico youth and what they face growing up. He wanted to make a difference with his life and in the lives of others. He knows about needing a second chance in life and wanted to be involved in a program that gave a second chance to the young people in the state of New Mexico.
Just to get accepted to it involves three Youth ChalleNGe recruiters to scour New Mexico. The Youth ChalleNGe program is free and a volunteer program that lasts 17 1/2 months. The tuition comes from federal funding and some from the state.
The kids can come for free, and once accepted into the program, Youth ChalleNGe will come and pick up the kids and take them to school. For the kids, the roughest part of the program is the first two weeks. They have no contact with the outside world other than their family writing to them. But they do not get any phone calls or visitation until they become a cadet, which is after the two-week acclamation.
The program will give them uniforms, cut their hair, and teach them how to walk and talk, and other common courtesies like “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am.” The goal is to have all of the group to be one and look the same. Youth ChalleNGe gives second chances to kids that dropped out of high school. To qualify, kids cannot have any felonies — they can have minor misdemeanors, but nothing else.
“We make sure we teach kids the military structure,” Vizcarrando said. “We want them to be a team and work as a team. We teach them etiquette and how to wear their uniform. We want them all looking the same. We want to make sure their pants are around their waist.”
The program is broken up into two phases: Phase I is 5 1/2 months — they are to get their General Education or HI-Set diploma. They take classes to earn their GED at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, including a vocational class with college credits, taught by college instructors. They take classes in welding, auto tech, construction, media arts, EMT and medical clerk, emergency response and firefighter classes.
“We teach kids respect,” Vizcarrando said. “We teach them to look for jobs and how to apply for jobs. We do a mock interview with them. That way they know what to say and what not to say. We teach them how to dress and what not to wear. We teach them health and how to take care of their bodies. We do a day at the barracks and they go to church services if they want to.”
In addition to their education, they take classes in coping skills in how to deal with life itself. Once they finish the program, they get a certificate of employment from their vocational class.
In Phase II, they have to report to their case manager for one year after they are back home.
It is a demanding time at the academy. An average day is the kids wake up at 5:30 a.m., then do physical fitness from 6-7 a.m., (running a mile and a half, push-ups, sit-ups). The kids will eat breakfast from 7-8 a.m., then go to class from 8 a.m.- 8 p.m., with lunch and dinner sprinkled in between.
The school usually has 106 students with two male platoons and a female platoon. The average platoon is 40-50 boys and for the girls, it varies between 20-30 females.
Some of the kids love the discipline so much that they want to continue with it. Youth ChalleNGe has a student that graduated from the academy and went on to continue their education at New Mexico Military Institute.
To be accepted into the color guard, the kids have to take a test on drill and ceremony, facing movements, how to march and how to stand with posture. After that, the kids will receive a study guide, which they have one day to study for a 25-question test. The highest numbers out of the combined test make the team. Being on color guard does not interfere with their education.
Vizcarrando will start out with three platoons with a total of 21 kids. Each platoon will have five primary members and two alternate members. There will be two male platoons and a female platoon. On some days, Vizcarrando will bring six kids out and intermix them. It might be four girls on one team and one boy.
“I do intermix the kids,” Vizcarrando said. “The reality is, I try to keep them with the same group. … Our goal is the kids’ education. All this is to help the community out.”
A lot of the kids choose color guard because of a family member that has served in the armed forces. Kids use the color guard as a way to honor their family members. Classes start in January and July. The color guard has traveled to Eastern New Mexico University-Portales. They perform at the Roswell and Goddard football games, Hike It and Spike It and also have participated in the New Mexico State Fair Parade.
“Being a color guard member,” Vizcarrando said, “it motivates the kids. I teach them what the flag means. What it means to present the American flag and the New Mexico flag. We fall under the New Mexico National Guard program.”
They have participated in the Veterans’ Day parade and have also performed at the Veterans Appreciation Days at Roswell and Goddard High schools and have gone to Dexter High School, as well. The color guard has performed at the Isotopes baseball games twice.
“We have had kids come back and congratulate us,” Vizcarrando said. “We’ve had kids join the military. We’ve had one cadet join the Marine Corps and one join the Army. We have had success with all branches of the military coming in and recruiting our kids. The nice part is, our kids are eligible to join the armed services. It makes me happy to see kids be given a second chance in life, and to make something of themselves.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.