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November 28, 2023

EAMS going to national finals of world’s largest rocket contest

ROCKET TEAM QUALIFICATION FLIGHTS AT MIDLAND, NC — East Alexander Middle School’s Team America Rocketry Challenge teams, Aikido and Classified, are pictured above, left to right: front row – Chloe Bobbitt, Tommy Bell, Drake Dessecker (lifted by Tommy Bell), Kacey Laws, Brevin McAlpin, Jaron Price, Hannah Fox, Shea Ortiz, Gunner Smith; back row – Joe Vanstory, Jason Erkman (Team Advisor), Jordan Stiles, Hunter Jamison, and Russell Frasier. Not pictured: Austin Sink from Team Aikido.

Two student teams from East Alexander Middle School have qualified to compete in the national finals of the 15th Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). The team will face off against 99 other top qualifying teams from across the United States to claim the title of national champion. The TARC finals will take place on May 13 at the Great Meadow in the Plains, Va., outside Washington D.C.

TARC is the U.S. aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue study and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The competition challenges middle and high school students to design, build, and fly a rocket to meet specific altitude and flight duration parameters. This year’s rules require a rocket carrying a raw egg to reach 775 feet and return to Earth uncracked within 41-43 seconds.

A rocket design requirement this year makes it the most difficult in TARC history. They must use body tubes of two different diameters for their exterior structure. The smaller-diameter of the two must be used for the lower (motor and fin) end of the rocket. The larger one must be large enough to contain the egg (which may be up to 45 millimeters) plus padding and altimeter. This requirement alone requires the teams to design more rocket parts on 3-D printers. Doing this work is not inexpensive.

During the qualifying flight phase beginning in the summer, each team spends anywhere from $500-$1,000 for rocket parts, motors, and travel to qualifying flight fields. The national event requires students to make fundraising efforts for travel, hotel, and entry fees.

Once a team qualifies for nationals, student teams are encouraged to fundraise and solicit business donors. Students present their work to potential business donors. Most of the expenses are paid for by school fundraising initiatives and business donations. Currently, the students have solicited business donors including, Carris Reels, Craftmaster, Sipe Lumber Company, Mayes Meats, and Commercial Education Safety. They may have other sponsors in the near future.

In East Alexander’s sixth year of participation in the TARC event, this will be the second time sending EAMS students to the national event. Alexander sent a high school team last year, and this same team qualified as a middle school team the year before.

“Due to the encouragement of our mentor, Dr. Douglas Knight, physics professor at Lenoir Rhyne University, we were able to achieve our goal of qualifying this year,” said Science teacher and team advisor, Mr. Jason Erkman. “Dr. Knight has been instrumental in assisting our school with events like ‘Rocket Day’ and College Day. We started with a single team six years ago. This year, two of three teams qualified for the finals. Team 1 (Aikido) consists of Drake Dessecker, Austin Sink, Brevin McCalpin, Joe Vanstory, Jaron Price, and Hunter Jamison. Team 2 (Classified) members are Chloe Bobbitt, Kacey Laws, Hannah Fox, Shea Ortiz, and Tommy Bell.”

As Dr. Knight said, “Both of these teams have a very good chance to make the top 10 this year. They have worked very hard, know their rocket’s capability and have the ability to adapt to weather conditions. I would not bet against either team.

“Being the second year competing in TARC for each team, they have experience with the competition and will not be surprised by any issue that arises,” Knight said. “And with the quality rocketry program developed at EAMS by Jason Erkman, I am not surprised.”

Dr. Knight mentored Statesville Christian Academy in the 2007 competition and the students won the national title.

East Alexander Middle School (Teams #1 and #2) will be competing for more than $100,000 in prizes and scholarships, and the opportunity to represent the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge taking place at the Paris International Air Show next June.

Mr. Erkman added, “My students did some unbelievable work this year. The students faced problems all year long and they never gave up. Rocket crashes, burnt parachutes, redesigning rocket parts were all part of the journey. The students did the design, the building, and spent several weekends at the flight facility in Midland, NC, and our local flight facility, Gaither Barnes’ pasture. Mr. Barnes has been extremely gracious in allowing our team to fly at his farm.”

Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Association of Rocketry and 27 industry partners, TARC is the world’s largest student rocketry contest.

Since its inception thirteen years ago, TARC has inspired more than 60,000 middle and high school students to further explore the possibilities of a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

This year, close to 700 teams representing 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands designed and built model rockets in hopes of qualifying for the national finals. For more information about TARC 2017, please visit

UPDATE: All donations for EAMS’ rocket teams can be made to East Alexander Middle School Science Fund, 1285 White Plains Road, Hiddenite NC 28636.

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