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Rocket club soars into national competition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Greg Mallory, the seventh-grade science teacher at John Adams Middle School, could hardly contain himself when he found out his rocket club had qualified for the national competition.

"I got the email that we had made the top 100 and everyone was in a meeting," he said. "I was running out of people to tell."

Finally, Mallory reached Scott Hamilton, one of the club's parent mentors.

"I think I screamed in the phone," Hamilton said.

The Falcon Rocket Club from John Adams is one of 100 teams out of 725 that entered and will participate in the Team America Rocketry Challenge on May 11 in The Plains, Va.

High schools from Farmington, Glenville and Martinsburg will also attend. However, John Adams was the only middle school with a team to qualify in the state.

Students are competing for more than $60,000 in scholarships and a chance to participate in NASA's Student Launch Initiative, according to a news release about the competition.

Last month, a judge watched as the team managed to fly its rocket close to 750 feet high and reach a flight time of about 50 seconds. The competition requirements also demanded that the rocket carry a raw egg sideways and not break.

Eric Hamilton, a sixth-grader and Scott's son, pulled off the nose from his club's winning rocket earlier this week, showing where the egg had been stored during flight. Club members plan to meet twice a week until the competition.

"We'll better protect the egg," he said.

The students now plan to build a new rocket they will take to the competition, using what they've learned works best.

Actually, students will build two rockets, as one will be an "emergency backup," Eric Hamilton said.

"Hopefully the first one won't break, though," said Ashlin Douglas, also a sixth-grader.

While Eric and Ashlin are considered part of the team, they "just can't touch" the rocket during competition, Ashlin said, because the competition is actually for seventh- through 12th-grade students.

But the group's five sixth-graders -- which also include Jonathan Cyrus, Camillo Peracchia and Madeleine Swint -- serve as understudies and are just as knowledgeable about the launching process, Mallory said. He hopes the sixth-grade students will be able to participate next year.

The club started in November with a grant from Starbase, a program that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math and is administered through the U.S. Department of Defense. Usually meant for fifth-graders, this year Starbase provided funding for some middle school projects.

The future of Starbase is unclear, though, as the latest federal budget doesn't include funding for the program.

Gretchen Evans, an eighth-grader, said she got involved with the club because she liked the whole idea of it.

"I've liked rockets since I was a little kid," she said.

Mallory said some of the students in the club had never built a rocket before. Applications were handed out around the school and Mallory chose the group based on two-paragraph essays that students wrote.

Special computer software has allowed the students to tweak and test their designs before construction.

"That's a lot easier and cost-saving than to actually build a rocket each time," Eric Hamilton said.

However, the group has learned to make adjustments on their own, he said, pointing out pieces that were taped to the bottom of the rocket in a last-minute effort before judging.

"That's probably the most important thing," he said. "Even a little thing can change it a lot."

Other participants in the group include: Anusha Ashraf, Mackenzie Bush, Brycen Ellis, Robert Hageboeck, Iman Shere and Trinity Waybright.

Reach Kate White at or 304-348-1723.


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