Leilehua Team To Compete In D.C. At National CyberPatriot Finals

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Nick Spiridigliozzi, cadets Seth Allen, Kawika Lavarias, Sharon Thepsenavong, David Williams and Michael Grajales; and Senior Master Sgt. (Ret.) Mike Herr. Photo courtesy Leilehua High School.

In March, five Leilehua High School students soon will travel to Washington, D.C., where they will compete in the CyberPatriot Finals.

The “Mighty Mules” – comprised of students Sharon Thepsenavong, Kawika Lavarias, Seth Allen, Michael Grajales and David Williams – is one of 14 finalists in the All Service Division. The team finished as the top JROTC qualifier in the nation.

“(Everyone) is looking forward to the CyberPatriot experience,” said coach and senior Army JROTC instructor Lt. Col. (Ret.) Nick Spiridigliozzi, who has been with the school for three years and served in the military for 26 years.

The all-expenses-paid trip will put the students through a series of challenges that will test their knowledge in computer-related topics ranging from hardware security to protecting a network. Specifically, students learn skills that enable them to protect their computers and networks, and keep their services running.

This is the second year Leilehua High School students will compete, having won the Army Service Division Championship at last year’s competition.

The goal of the program and competition is simple: to get kids excited about learning.

“The goal of Cyber-Patriots is to get kids excited about their education, make them aware of cyber security, science, mathematics and technology,” said Spiridigliozzi.

The team has been preparing with Friday practices and the occasional Saturday, depending on their mentors’ availability. Each team member’s commitment to the program is one requirement Spiridigliozzi had for anyone interested in joining; that and a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.

One mentor, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. (Ret.) Mike Herr, has been particularly helpful.

“He is, by far, probably the best mentor in the United States,” declared Spiridigliozzi. “Not only does he know the computer side of it, but he also knows the competition side and how the competitions are designed.”

Spiridigliozzi also is quick to point out that the team wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much as they have so far without the help of principal Aloha Coleman.

Simply put: “She’s awesome.

“She’s so supportive of us and anything we need, she’s there for us, and we’re very fortunate to have a principal as supportive as she is,” he added.

The skills the students have learned are ones that are applicable to future potential careers. What previously started with just one teammate interested in pursuing a career in computer science has now evolved to three out of the five members.

The team flies in ahead of the competition to get acclimated to the time difference. While there, they’ll also take in the sights and meet Hawaii’s congressional delegation. At the end of the competition, a banquet is held where winners are announced.

“The kids get a lot of accolades and they really put on a first-class operation,” said Spiridigliozzi. “It’s something high school students don’t really see that very often.”

The CyberPatriot Finals are March 14-15 at Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.