BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — "This is for the championship."
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Dennis Bradley turned to the group of young men and women to his left and barked, "Are you ready, Huntington?"
Ten recruits from the Huntington Marine recruiting substation positioned themselves on their stomachs alongside a rope stretched across a soccer field in Beckley. Bradley turned to ten recruits on his right and shouted, "Are you ready?"
"Go, Bristol!" one of the recruits from the Bristol, Tenn., substation yelled to his teammates, already lying on the ground.
The start of the match was called, and Bradley watched as both teams snatched up the rope and began the final tug-of-war match at Saturday's fall statewide recruit pool meet. As the Huntington substation dragged the flag across its halfway point and began to cheer, Bradley cut in on their celebration.
"Don't get too excited," he said. "You're pulling against the command group now."
The pool meet, held at the YMCA Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, is a chance for recruits in the Marine's Delayed Entry Program to get a glimpse of what basic training will be like, as well as the opportunity to meet with other "poolees" from around the region.
The Marine Corps Recruiting Station Charleston, headquartered in Ona, covers 11 substations in West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Four substations — Beckley, Huntington, Parkersburg and Bristol — participated in Saturday's pool meet, where 117 "poolees" were subjected to strength tests and competed in competitions, including a 50-meter dash and a push-up contest.
"The chance for these individuals to be around peers they're going to be with in recruit training is huge," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Rogers, a supervisor for the Huntington substation. "Everyone loves a good competition. We're all winners, and we're all out here to bring home some hardware."
The Huntington substation was awarded top honors for the day, and Huntington recruit Michael Lang was given the Spartacus Award as the highest-achieving male recruit of the day.
Tabatha Whited, a 23-year-old Huntington recruit from Virginia, was given the Gladiatrice Award for being the most outstanding female recruit in Saturday's competition. Whited, a graduate of Concord University who works in Huntington, said the thought of becoming a Marine was what pushed her to excel in Saturday's events.
"I'm currently working in insurance in Huntington," she said, "and I finally decided — I'm not getting any younger, and this is something I always wanted to do."
The Bristol substation was awarded second place, and Beckley garnered third place for its performance in the meet. The Charleston station will hold another meet next month, in Ohio, for its northern substations, Sgt. Tyler Hlavac said. Saturday's pool meet also featured two Marine drill instructors invited to the event to give poolees a sense of how basic training will work at Parris Island, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in South Carolina.
"It's an awesome opportunity to give back to your country; it's why I do it, and why I continue to re-enlist," Rogers said. "Any branch of service is honorable, but I chose the Marine Corps, so that's my bias. My grandfather was a Marine, and it's the best thing going. I wouldn't trade it for anything else."
Duncan McClung, an 18-year-old Sissonville High School student representing the Huntington substation, said he has wanted to join the Marines since he was in the third grade, and joined the Delayed Entry Program to participate until he could graduate from high school.
"I've been to three or four poolee functions now, and they just keep getting more fun," McClung said. "Just growing up with my mom — she's a Marine — and Sissonville has a big Marine Corps influence in it. There are a lot of Marines who live in Sissonville, so a lot of their influence was there growing up, all around me."
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com