Oak Lawn teen is fit for command
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent January 31, 2014 2:14PM
Alex Villafuerte, of Richards High School, originally joined Junior ROTC as a way to stay in shape for baseball. | Supplied photo by Bob McParland
Updated: March 4, 2014 6:02AM
Alex Villafuerte is a starting pitcher for Richards High School’s varsity baseball team. He loves the game and has a true competitive spirit.
When he was an incoming freshman, he wasn’t the successful player he is today. Like most athletes, Villafuerte, the son of Lisa and Juan Villafuerte, of Oak Lawn, wanted to improve his skills. So when his dad suggested a good conditioning activity for baseball, he listened.
His father told him to get involved with the school’s U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.
“I was three weeks into it and I didn’t really like it,” said Villafuerte, 17, now a senior. “The executive officer at that time pushed me to become much more involved.”
As a sophomore, he immersed himself in everything Junior ROTC offered.
As a junior, he became the physical fitness commander, designing workouts for a team of 16 of his peers.
“I loved it that year. I hurt my knee and there was seven months when I couldn’t play baseball, so I focused on creating JROTC workouts over the summer. I wanted to come up with ways to advance my physical fitness team for competitions,” he said.
With Villafuerte as physical fitness commander, Richards’ Junior ROTC team of 140 cadets placed second last year against a team with 800.
“During my junior year, we placed higher than in all the years Richards competed before,” Villafuerte said.
But that wasn’t all.
“I always tried to take charge whenever possible. As a junior, if our executive officer or commanding officer was unavailable, I would step in and help out,” he said.
His dedication did not go unnoticed. This year, Villafuerte is the unit’s commanding officer.
“We’re so lucky. We have one of the finest JROTC programs in the nation. It’s very competitive to earn this position,” Community High School District 218 spokesman Bob McParland said.
“It wasn’t easy,” Villafuerte said of earning the job.
“I had to do a lot of work and participate as much as possible. That is why I was picked even though I was hurt. I was loyal to the unit and did what I could to better ourselves though I couldn’t participate.”
He has earned many accolades for his dedication. His team placed second overall at the Leadership Academy at Naval Station Great Lakes out of about 150 teams from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota. In addition, Villafuerte won a Circle 10 Medal of Excellence, which recognizes military knowledge and uniform appearance, at last year’s inspection.
Richards Junior ROTC Cmdr. Doug Groters and Brianna O’Brien, a Richards graduate who was Villafuerte’s commanding officer when he was a sophomore, are his mentors.
“They pushed me to participate more in after-school drills and after-school activities to compete along with everyone else at Richards in the ROTC program. Brianna took me under her wing and helped transform me,” he said. “She pushed me to become company commander because she saw the potential in me my freshman year.”
The experience has been life-changing. Next school year, Villafuerte, who earned Honors with Distinction, the highest academic honor a student can receive in District 218, wants to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
“My goal is to be a successful Naval officer majoring in mechanical or electrical engineering,” he said. “The demands of ROTC and baseball keep me focused. You have to stay organized. I have to make sure I keep up my grades. I have to have team sets for my physical fitness competitions. The responsibility and accountability that is entrusted in me pushes me to be the best that I can be.”
Looking back, Villafuerte appreciates the advice his dad gave him four years ago.
“My dad was the one who inspired me to join ROTC in the beginning. I said, ‘No way,’ ” Villafuerte said. “So without him, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with it. I love the fact it gave me the discipline to work out for baseball and bettered my leadership skills.”