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RHS, THS rocket teams notch top 10 finishes at nationals

Russellville and Tharptown high school rocketry teams competed in The American Rocketry Challenge national competition in mid-June and came away with high finishes among the 100 teams that qualified to compete.

RHS Team One placed fifth, winning $7,500 for the team and $1,000 for the school. The team also won Best in Launch Site for Birmingham, for another $1,000 in winnings.

Team members were Elijah Hawkins, Tino Soto, Carrie Ruth Jackson and Zakery Colburn.

“I have been on the rocketry team since my freshman year. We qualified for nationals that year and also for my sophomore year,” said Soto. With the competition canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Soto said the team was glad for the opportunity to compete again this year. “I’m proud of how well we did.”

RHS Team Two placed 35th. Team members were Shiloh Willis, Carson McCalpin, Dalton Ridge and Seth Burns.

“The students are dedicated, detailed and committed, and their hard work has really paid off,” said Gabe Willis, RHS team sponsor. “They have an engineering mindset. They’re all great kids, and they’re going to go far in life.

Willis added special thanks to Tracy Burns, team mentor.

THS Team One placed ninth in the national competition. Team members included Perla Chavez, Lydia Henderson, Presley Laster and Destin Martin.

“I feel very good about how we did,” said Laster. “We have had a lot of fun together while learning how we can improve the performance of our rockets.”

Chavez, who served as team captain, agreed. “I enjoy the challenges we get to tackle as part of a team,” she added. “We have come together to find solutions to the obstacles we face while working to achieve our goals. I have learned how to be a leader and how to work under pressure. I have also learned the value of working as a team.

“I love that we get to have ideas, design and build rockets and see them work.”

THS Team Two was sixth alternate, of the 615 teams that competed for one of the 100 national slots, and ultimately did not get the opportunity to compete this year. Team members were Christian Franco, Bernardo Castillo, Danielle Cassel and Grace Beard.

Marsha Inmon, Tharptown team sponsor, said she is extremely proud of how hard the students worked getting ready to compete.

“As late as the day before nationals, they insisted on meeting early in the morning to get some last-minute launches in,” Inmon said. “They’ve learned a lot, and they have improved their critical thinking skills. The weight of the rocket and the size of the parachute help determine how high a rocket goes and how fast it comes down. Weather factors have to be considered – windspeed, humidity and temperature. Getting a rocket to hit the target height takes a lot of work.”

Inmon said this year’s effort represents the highest ranking a Tharptown team has ever achieved. She noted it’s only the third time for the school to get to compete at the national level.

According to the official website,, The American Rocketry Challenge is the world’s largest rocket contest, with nearly 5,000 students nationwide competing each year – designing, building and launching model rockets while also gaining hands-on experience solving engineering problems.

“The true reward from being part of the rocketry team is not just in seeing our efforts come to fruition … but enjoying and learning from the process itself and working together as a team,” Soto added. “We each have a different sense of humor and view the world differently, and I’m glad we’ve gotten to know each other, become friends and work on these challenges together.”