PARKERSBURG - School and community members gathered at Parkersburg High School Monday evening to protest the planned closure of the school's Naval Junior ROTC program.
The unit is scheduled for dissolution at the end of this school year due to lower-than-required enrollment numbers. The program failed to meet the minimum 100-student enrollment requirement for the past five years. Eighty-nine students were enrolled as of Oct. 1.
The PHS unit is one of two Naval Junior ROTC programs in the state and the only West Virginia unit scheduled to be closed.
Carla Husk, treasurer of the Parkersburg High School Naval Junior ROTC program boosters, speaks at t
About 200 people attended the vigil, which featured the ROTC Color Guard, nearly a dozen speakers and a candle-lighting ceremony.
Principal Ralph Board said the school already has 109 students signed up for next year's program, well above the required enrollment of 100.
"We've met the Navy's requirement," Board said. "Let us keep this program."
Photos by Jeff Baughan
Former Parkersburg High Naval JROTC members Kathleen Orn, Amanda Cole and Diedre Willis stand with, from left, Peyton and Parker Cole while Bryce Willis holds a sign as they listen to the speakers at Monday's vigil in support of the group.
"We cannot allow this program to disappear," said Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law. "We are gonna win this, but we need your help."
The school presented hundreds of signatures and letters of support for the program to Wes Holden, representing U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Holden said those papers would be presented to officials with the Navy.
Rockefeller is asking Navy officials to place the program on probation for another year.
"We are fighting to keep this program," Holden said. "The best things in life are the things worth fighting for. We are here to fight for the Navy Junior ROTC program at Parkersburg High School."
Representatives of Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. David McKinley spoke Monday, pledging political support for the program in Washington.
Sen. Dave Nohe, R-Wood, and Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood, also spoke Monday, saying they would fight to keep the program alive and well at PHS.
The state Senate on Friday adopted a resolution spearheaded by Nohe and Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and supported by all senators, including Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, to support the ROTC program.
A group of cadets presented more than 50 letters of support to the state Senate.
"That was one of my proudest moments the other day, when that fine group walked into the Senate," Nohe said. "That is the first time this year I've seen a resolution signed by every single senator in that chamber.
"This is the best program I've seen in a long time and there is no sense it should end; we can't let it end and all of us together are going to keep it here."
Carla Husk, treasurer of the ROTC boosters, said the group has gathered about 2,000 signatures and more are being sought.
Husk said the vigil was meant to bring awareness to the program's situation and to urge community members to write to their state and federal representatives and to the Navy to ask for the program to continue.
"We just want as much community support as we give to the community," she said.