Rocket launch competition combines learning and fun

By Paul Mandry, M.Ed     1/3/2019

In the spirit of adventure here at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, we began a new tradition recently that was way up in the sky…literally.  Three outstanding middle school students entered the first of hopefully many rocket competitions at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano. With too many near catastrophes to count, these three outstanding rocketeers found a way to keep hope alive and pulled off a near victory at the 16-team competition.   

After making it to the second round, our best rocket crashed into the bleachers and snapped off one of the major stabilizer fins. With only 30 seconds left until the next launch, our team thought we had no hope. Out of nowhere a fellow Catholic competitor came to the rescue saying, “There’s no way you guys are going out this way.”  To our complete surprise he pulled out amazing fast-drying glue and with no time to spare, we were back in business! What an exemplary model of grace and support from the team at St. Mary’s to help us in our time of need, and from a competitor no less. 

Back in the competition, we were in the round of 4 with a perfect score. Then tragedy struck again when we lost our last rocket on the roof of the gymnasium. We thought we were going to forfeit the finals. With only 4 minutes to spare, we found a way to get on the roof and retrieve our lost rocket. Our parachute was damaged past the point of no return, but we still had to launch. On bended knee we prayed. Our launch
was the highest, but without our parachute our time aloft didn’t reach the minimum of 15 seconds, and we placed second. Congratulations to the 7th-grade team at St. Mary’s who took first, and exemplified excellent sportsmanship and graciousness. 

As we bring more STEM opportunities to our students, this team from St. Francis made us proud by collaborating, problem solving and using critical thinking skills under pressure. Taking 2nd place at our very first competition opened doors for these young men with a $10,000 scholarship award for our team. 

A special thank you to our hosts from JSerra Catholic High School, Dr. Blase Maffia, Dr. Jan Kilduff, and Chris Harrington for putting on such a first-class event.