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NEWS | Dec. 22, 2010

Wisconsin National Guard Youth Challenge Academy graduates 25th class of cadets

By Wisconsin National Guard

One hundred and eight cadets from 42 counties graduated from the Wisconsin National Guard's Challenge Academy during a Dec. 18 ceremony at Mauston High School.

The cadets comprised the 25th Challenge Academy class since the program started at Fort McCoy in 1998.

The Challenge Academy reshapes the lives of at-risk 16- to 18-year-olds. A structured, military-style environment and state-certified teachers and counselors build cadets' academic abilities, character, self-confidence and personal discipline.

"You have shown great character, great heart and great determination," keynote speaker State Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse told the cadets.

"You made a conscious decision to attend Challenge Academy. You stayed the course, and you're here today. Who knows where you will be tomorrow because of what you have accomplished today?"

Cadet Tyler Sabel, the distinguished honor graduate for Class 25, reminded cadets that their time at Challenge Academy has revealed their inner strength and capabilities.

"We are no longer our old selves, nor are we any longer normal teenagers," Sabel said. "Most teenagers do not get a second chance like that provided through this program."

Larry Walls, Milwaukee, a mentor to Cadet Denzel Parker, also of Milwaukee, looked on as the military honor graduate barked commands while fellow cadets filed into formation.

Walls said he has known Parker, a former tenant, for about six years and that the teen was doing well until high school. When Parker decided to attend Challenge Academy, Walls - who maintained contact over the years - was asked to be his mentor.

"It's doing wonders for him," Walls said. "He's respectful; he wants to do great things. I wish more kids would come here."

According to M. G. MacLaren, director of the Wisconsin National Guard's Challenge Academy, cadets averaged 82 hours of community service during their 22-week training.

Fourteen cadets read a book cover-to-cover for the first time in their lives, and eight cadets have enlisted or plan to enlist in the military.

Over the past 12 years, 2,145 cadets have graduated from the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy.

Scott Miller of Horicon, Wis., didn't know Cadet Jonathan Contreraz of Beaver Dam, Wis., until he answered an open request on Facebook to volunteer as a mentor.

"Turns out, he lives 10 miles from me," Miller said.

He described Contreraz as a positive person who made a couple of poor choices and lacked direction before attending Challenge Academy.

"Now he has good attitude, good focus," Miller said. "He has a vision for himself."

"They leave us today with a brighter future than they had before," MacLaren said of the cadets.

Holding a challenge coin given to each graduate, he continued, "We at the Academy expect you to build on the foundation you have developed over the past five and a half months."



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