There were 735 teams with qualifying scores and only 100 teams were even accepted to compete at nationals, so just getting that far was an accomplishment for the students.
But luck wasn’t on the Three Rivers team’s side during the competition. They had prepared for the competition while working with South Texas climate but had to compete in cold, humid and windy weather.
All of these factors impacted their launch because the competition has very specific requirements.
For the rocket team, the competitions aren’t just a matter of successfully launching and landing. The teams have to meet specific qualifications such as reaching 750 feet and landing within 48-50 seconds while weighing less than 650 grams without breaking an egg contained inside.
Because of this, weather played a factor that just wasn’t in their favor.
Their rocket had a perfect time of 48 seconds and their egg survived. The only flaw to their launch was their rocket only reached 650 feet instead of the required 750 feet.
Riojas said if they had launched late in the day, instead of 8:30 a.m., they would have done better.
Team coach and TRHS chemistry and physics teacher Judy Hudek said winds were at about 13-14 mph and the team had to submit their information by March 25 for nationals.
But even though they placed 91st, the team came home with a positive attitude and medals for making it to nationals.
“Overall, even though we didn’t do as well as we hoped to do, it was a great experience to compete against other schools much bigger than us,” Riojas said. “We put ourselves on the map. Representing our school in rocketry, which was new to us, is a great feeling.”
Riojas also said he was grateful to Hudek for giving him and his teammates the opportunity to participate since the program didn’t exist at TRHS until this year.
Hudek said the rocket program is set to expand in its second year at TRHS. She said Smith and Saenz are holding tryouts for a third teammate to replace Riojas, who graduated last weekend. She also said their younger brothers will be starting their freshman year in the fall with plans to start their own rocket team and a third team could happen as well.
But, she said students must have an interest in rockets and science in order for the team to be successful. Hudek has coached rocketry for 10 years and taken teams to national for five of those 10 years.
“I find the kids that want to do it and are interested,” Hudek said. “I had a blast this year. When you enjoy what you do it is not work.”