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Forsyth Central High School students to compete in Team America Rocketry Challenge
Sophomore, freshman to vie for top honors Friday in nation's capital
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Forsyth Central High School students prepare to launch a rocket as they practice for the upcoming national Team America Rocketry Challenge. The students will compete in the challenge, which starts May 12 in Washington, D.C. This is the second time Forsyth Central has qualified for the national competition in the three years the team has existed. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Ahead of an upcoming national competition, a team of Forsyth County students could be spotted last week measuring temperature, wind and humidity, all aiming at a perfect launch.

A team of students from Forsyth Central High School is headed to the national Team America Rocketry Challenge starting May 12 in Washington, D.C. It will be the second time Central has made the national competition in the three years the team has existed.

“The competition this year is to fly a model rocket that has been flown before to a height of 775 feet, and it comes up and down within a timeframe of 41-43 seconds,” team member Eric Gangwish said.

The team is made up of underclassmen. Other than Gangwish, a sophomore, the team is all freshmen.

Going to the national competition is a big motivator for the young team.

“It’s not something you expect out of a team this young,” Gangwish said. “You really expect people with a lot of experience (to) make the decisions and (to) have the design experience to be able to do this. But through just a lot of people guiding us who have the experience we don’t, we were able to pull off the design to get us qualified.”

Work on the rockets began months ago and has taken a lot of meetings, learning from parents and teachers and work to reach this point. The team started by learning about rocketry, aerodynamics and physics before building their own prototype rockets.

“We meet every Wednesday after school until 5:30 and we basically just get together, decide what we want to do that day, what we want to accomplish and just go for it,” freshman Madison Richardson said. “Normally, that can mean sanding down fins or designing a new design for the rocket if it didn’t work the last week we launched.”

On Sunday mornings, the team will fly and test the rocket from 8-9 a.m.

Coach and physics teacher Cristina Stevenson said the team coming to work on the rocket on weekends shows their commitment.

“It’s great from my point of view to see them so enthusiastic about it and putting that amount of effort and waking up in the mornings on Sunday and coming every single Sunday,” Stevenson said.

Of course, with so much hands-on learning from a young team, it is inevitable for things to occasionally go wrong. In fact, the team’s very first practice launch ended with a rocket lost somewhere along Old Federal Road.

“I’ve had many times before where I’ve either forgot to plug in the altimeter, which measures the height,” freshman Gaston Taylor said. “The ignitor has been put in wrong. The motor has been put in wrong, which causes the rocket to CATO (a rocketry term for ‘catastrophe at take off’).”

Team members said those experiences helped them learn to avoid those mistakes in the future.

Other team members are Grace Gant, Christian Lee, Matthew Shellhaas and Julia Vallier. Gangwish and Gant said they plan to pursue a college education and career in rocketry.

“It’s always been kind of a fun thing I wanted to do and I got pretty excited when I heard of the opportunity,” Lee said. “I’ve just always found something pretty exciting about rockets.”

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