Tharptown rocketry team blasts into first place in nation 

Tharptown’s rocketry team blasted off to victory, all the way from their home in Russellville, Ala., to securing first place in the nation in the world’s largest rocketry competition, the annual American Rocketry Challenge in The Plains, VA.  

“Winning nationals has been the goal for a long time,” explained team mentor and former coach, Marsha Inmon. “Each year, the kids have gotten closer to that mark. I am so proud of these kids. They have worked so hard, including after school and many long hours on the weekend, to get ready for this competition.”  

The team consists of Angel Garcia, Adrionna Ashley, Isabella Hall, Shyla Martinez Duarte, Kylee Beard, Angie Chavez, Jessie Mitchell and Frank Gutierrez. Chavez, Martinez Duarte, Beart, Garcia and Gutierrez are in eleventh grade, Mitchell is in twelfth grade Ashley is in eleventh grade and Hall is in tenth grade.  

“I am so proud of these students,” explained the team’s coach and sponsor, Areanna Orozco. “These kids put in so much work, it’s truly remarkable. I was surprised they won because of the sheer shock value, but I never doubted that they could do it.”

Orozco said the team spent “upwards of three hours” looking at data from previous launches the night before to help prepare them for the competition. “We were all nervous, but I made sure to tell them that no matter what happened on the field, it would all be okay.” 

Tharptown High School bested a record breaking 922 teams that entered the competition at the start of the year and the top 100 teams competing at National Finals on Sunday, designing, building and launching a model rocket with greater precision than any other team in the country. 

“I kept looking at the previous launches and organizing until I was comfortable I had an idea what I should do,” said Martinez Duarte. “For the first, I took what I had decided earlier, but I decided I wanted it to be lighter because of the fog and cloud covering, so I left it at 407 grams. For the second launch, I took 20 grams off because I knew it would be too low, so I got to 432, and I felt good about both of these and went with it. I had faith.” 

Tharptown High School students take home $20,000 for their engineering skill and will represent the United States in the International Rocketry Challenge at the Farnborough Air Show, outside London, in July. The school also gets $1,000 for the team’s accomplishments.

“We all work together as a team and come together to give input,” said Kylee Beard, Tharptown High School’s team captain. “We have one senior on our team, one sophomore, and the rest of us are juniors, so we’re looking forward to success in the years ahead. To prepare for the Farnborough Air Show, we plan to launch more during the summer – but we need a lot more supplies! But at the end of the day, it’s going to be YOLO [you only live once], because that’s what we do best.” 

Tharptown High School has sent a team to the national finals six times since the program started in 2018. Tharptown High School has now placed in the top 10 four times, including a second-place finish in 2023. The team is mentored by Andrew Heath, who was the team captain of the Russellville City Schools team that won the International Rocketry Challenge in 2015. 

Tharptown High School Team members, with team roles in parentheses, are Kylee Beard (team captain and motor builder), Angie Chavez (parachutes), Shyla Martinez (payload), Angel Franco (launch setup and retrieval), Adrionna Ashley (team helper), Jessie Mitchell (launch setup and retrieval), Isabella Hall (flight sheets), and Frank Gutierrez (launch setup and retrieval).

“We are so proud of these students and our rocketry team,” said THS principal Tyler Berryman. “It means the world to our community and our school.”

The team’s victory follows 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 (AIA), National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry partners.

To qualify for the finals, each team designed, built, and launched a model rocket that safely carried one large hen egg to an altitude of 820 feet, stays airborne for between 43 and 46 seconds, and returns the rocket to the ground safely. At the national finals, a Friday night coin flip determined that competing teams had to launch the rockets to 850 feet with a flight duration of 43-46 seconds in the first round of competition. The top 24 teams conducted a second launch that was required to reach 800 feet with a flight duration of 43-46 seconds.

“I’m very excited and happy for the Tharptown High School rocketry team,” said Franklin County Schools superintendent Greg Hamilton. “It’s quite an amazing accomplishment. The consistency and quality of this team is evident in the results, and the quality of what they are doing is fantastic.”  

 

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