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Three local rocket teams qualify for national competition

Franklin County students are soaring to new heights as three local rocketry teams have qualified to compete at this year’s The American Rocketry Challenge national competition.

Two teams will represent Russellville High School, and one team will represent Tharptown High School.

“We are very excited for nationals,” said THS rocketry sponsor Marsha Inmon. “We have a lot of experience on this team, so we hoping to do well.”

Most years, all 100 qualifying rocketry teams from across the country travel to Washington D.C. for national competition, but this year because of COVID-19, the national competition will comprise several different launch sites.

Local schools will be among the seven Alabama schools competing at the Birmingham location Saturday.

RHS rocketry sponsor Gabe Willis said the Birmingham launch site conditions will be unlike those students are used to facing because it is near an interstate, and the heat is different.

“It will be different being in a new space where you aren’t used to launching,” Willis said. “It is amazing the things that can affect that rocket.”

Willis said the team is also preparing for rainy conditions, which are predicted for Saturday.

Typically, when nationals take place in Washington D.C., there is an extra day scheduled in the event of rain. Because this year’s site will be in Birmingham, Willis said he is unsure what will be done in the event of rain.

Despite the launches taking place at several different sites, all team scores will be compared to determine one national winner.

Typically, having a team with experience is an advantage, but this year with the competition changing sites, volunteer rocketry adviser Andrew Heath said it will be a surprise for everyone.

“We really are all going into this not really knowing what to expect,” said Heath, who was a student on the 2015 international champion team at RHS. He has been assisting teams at both schools with their preparation for the national competition. “We have students on this team who have traveled to D.C. for finals, but no one has ever competed in a nationals in Birmingham.”

THS rocketry team captain Perla Chavez said she, like many others, was disappointed to not get to travel to D.C. for nationals but is still looking forward to this competition.

“Whenever we traveled to Washington D.C., we were able to do so many cool things,” Chavez said. “There were people from across the country we were able to meet, and there were so many large companies there to network with us.”

Chavez said despite the change in travel plans, she and her team are still looking forward to meeting the other teams from Alabama.

The Birmingham launch will be Saturday, but Heath said not all launch sites are having their launches on the same day. Because of this, the local teams will have to wait a few weeks to find out how they score in comparison to the other teams across the country.

Students competing for RHS are Elijah Hawkins, Tino Soto, Carrie Ruth Jackson and Zakery Colburn for team one and Shiloh Willis, Carson McCalpin, Dalton Ridge and Seth Burns for team two. The THS team includes Chavez, Lydia Henderson, Presley Laster and Destin Martin.

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