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THS rocketry team makes top 10 in world’s largest student rocket contest

The Tharptown and Russellville high school rocketry teams are among 99 teams that blasted off to this year’s national rocketry finals in The Plains, Va. In total, 724 teams from 41 states competed in the American Rocketry Challenge May 14, with THS placing 10th and RHS coming in at 51.

Tharptown’s team, Tharptown Rocketry, earned $1,500 in prize money for their achievement, and  Tharptown High School will receive $500 for the Top 10 finish.

“I’m extremely proud,” said team co-sponsor Marsha Inmon. “I think the students had a lot of fun, and we got to see and do a lot while we were in the D.C. area for the competition. The team has great camaraderie. We have an awesome group of kids on our team.”

Teams from Tharptown High School have made it to every national finals since 2018. Three of the eight members of this year’s team are new to rocketry. In addition to Inmon, the team is led by co-sponsor Lynsi Fincher and team mentor Andrew Heath.

Scores for the competition were based on height and time goals. Inmon explained their first launch height goal was 810 feet in 40-43 seconds, and they came in at 809 feet with a time in the desired window. The goal for the second launch was 860 feet and 41-44 seconds, and the team came in at 833 feet with the time off by about 1.5 seconds.

“It started raining right before our second launch, and the wind picked up,” explained Inmon. “The kids had never launched in the rain before.”

Scoring, Inmon noted, is “like golf in that low scores are good. You get one point for every foot you’re off on height and four points for every second you’re off.”

The RHS team didn’t score the way they had hoped, but members expressed pride in qualifying for nationals and having the chance to compete. “It was an unforgettable experience, win or no win,” said RHS team member Carrie Ruth Jackson.

“We had a very good trip,” added team sponsor Gabe Willis. “We got to watch an RHS graduate, Cody Greenhill, pitch for a minor league team, Fredericksburg Nationals, and that was a lot of fun. We also got to tour Washington D.C.”

The weather conditions might have played a factor in Russellville’s performance. “We think some moisture might have got on the rocket to prevent us from reaching our mark. It acted a little differently than expected when it got up in the air,” Willis said. He said he’s extremely proud of the team and how they represented the school. “They have worked together amazingly well. They put in the work to make it to nationals, and that’s quite an accomplishment just to get to that point.”

To qualify for the national finals, teams were required to build and launch a rocket to safely carry a payload of two raw eggs with a target flight duration of 41-44 seconds and altitude of 835 feet.

Inmon said Tharptown’s accomplishment followed months of preparation designing, building and testing a rocket capable of meeting rigorous mission parameters set by the contest’s sponsors – the Aerospace Industries Association, National Association of Rocketry and more than 20 industry partners.

“We are very proud,” said THS junior Presley Laster. “We come from a small town and go to an even smaller school. There are dozens of teams at nationals with funding much larger than our own, but yet we were able to place in the top 10 two years in a row. This year, we hold the title of having the No. 1 rocketry team in the state of Alabama.”

Laster’s fellow team members share her sentiments.

“After three years of giving it my all, I finally got to go to nationals,” said THS senior Christian Franco. “I knew we were going to do great, but after the first launch, it was even better than we had imagined. Although the weather was not in our favor for the second launch, we still managed to get a fairly good score. It was, without a doubt, the best day in my life.”

“Watching our team learn and grow over the years has been wonderful,” added THS junior Danielle Cassel. “I’ve loved being able to do this every second of the way, and I am proud to say I’m a part of this team. I’ve made some good memories and even better friends through this program, and there’s no one else I’d rather do it with.”

Inmon said the students learned skills that can’t be learned from books alone – teamwork, perseverance, communication skills and data analysis. She said their enthusiasm for the work involved is truly inspiring.

“You should hear them talk when they’re working. They have to do a lot of data analysis and use the data to make decisions about rocket weight, parachute size and whether or not to use a spill hole in the parachute,” she said. “If something goes wrong, they work to figure out what caused the malfunction.”

Inmon said she’s a big proponent of the TARC competition because she has seen the positive impact it has.

“The kids who have participated and graduated are in college and doing well. We even have one student who, because of connections she made in the competition, worked as an intern for CISA (part of Homeland Security),” Inmon said. “She is currently in school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.”

Teams at the national finals represented 27 states, from Hawai’i to Connecticut, competing for a total of $100,000 in prize money and scholarships. Winners of the marketing competition, presentation competition and Best First Time Finalist were also honored.

This marks the 20th year of The American Rocketry Challenge. It was the first time since 2019 the top teams competed in a national finals launch, as it was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19, and held in a regional finals format across the country in 2021 as a precaution against the pandemic.

As a top-25 finisher, Tharptown earned an invitation to participate in NASA’s Student Launch initiative, a research-based exploration activity designed to provide cost-effective research and development of rocket propulsion systems. This project will offer multiple challenges and will reach a broad audience of middle and high schools, colleges and universities across the nation.

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