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Spring Grove advances to rocketry nationals with rookie team

Alyssa Beyer, 11, left, Hailey Graff, also 11, and Finley Ritenour, 12, right of the Intermediate School rocket team at Spring Grove School District prepare their rocket upcoming Team America Rocketry Challenge in Virginia, Monday, May 13, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Spring Grove Area School District is advancing to rocketry nationals with one of the youngest teams to ever compete.

The Team America Rocketry Challenge is the world's largest rocket contest, with about 5,000 competitors annually and more than 800 teams this year — 100 of them qualifying for nationals in Virginia, which begin Saturday, May 18, according to a news release.

Out of eight Spring Grove teams competing in the qualifier, the district's intermediate school team triumphed — in the first year that sixth grade students were eligible for TARC.

“To have a team of all rookies make it to nationals is outstanding," said team adviser and high school physics teacher Brian Hastings in a news release. "This could be the youngest team attending TARC Nationals in the hardest competition year.”

The 2019 challenge requires rockets to separate into two halves and carry three large eggs to a height of 856 feet, bringing them back down in 43 to 46 seconds.

AJ Velez, 11, prepares his rocket as he and fellow members of the Intermediate School rocket team at Spring Grove School District ready for their upcoming Team America Rocketry Challenge in Virginia, Monday, May 13, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The eggs symbolize the three astronauts in Apollo 11 who made it to the moon and back, celebrating the 50th anniversary of that mission.

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It's the highest target altitude and most eggs required so far, with the added challenge of keeping the rocket to its max weight of 650 grams, Hastings said. Students spent about a month and a half working on two different rocket designs and already hit their target.

"We're younger, so we just think it's cool that we actually got the chance," said seventh grader Finley Ritenour, 12.

Spring Grove is known as the Rockets, but that name came long before the district ventured into rocketry in 2004. Over the years, the district's teams have placed in a number of competitions — this year winning the target altitude event for Battle of the Rockets.

Hastings was at the forefront of bringing the program to the district, and he's "been able to bolster some excitement" beyond high school teams, said spokeswoman Stephanie Kennedy.

Sixth grader Alexander Valez, 11, said he joined the intermediate team "because I like rockets, and explosions are fun."

It's going to be a big weekend for students, Hastings said, beginning with a trip to Capitol Hill to show off their rockets before Congress. If they win at nationals, they will compete against teams from France, Japan and the United Kingdom.