Gas was 15 cents a gallon, a soft drink was 5 cents and a new car $900.  It was 1943 and Arnie and Alpha Lee became the parents of a baby boy.  Me.

That little history lesson is just my way of saying that I’ve now been around a long time.  And because I have, not that many things impress me these days.  But last Wednesday I was very IMPRESSED by a group of students from Russellville middle and high schools who won the international rocketry contest at the Paris Air Show in June.

Think about it.  Kids ranging in age from 7th grade to 12th grade from a northwest Alabama city school system of only 2,500 students beat 700 other U.S. teams and then beat the best the United Kingdom and France have.  Talk about an accomplishment, wow.

State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow invited the students to visit the Statehouse in Montgomery.  I’m glad he included me.  It’s hardly any wonder a room of mothers and fathers were taking pictures and grinning from ear to ear.  They had ever reason to.

This year’s team challenge was to send a rocket to 800 feet, return its payload of a fresh egg to the ground unbroken and do it all within a certain amount of seconds.  Each rocket carried an altimeter to measure the height it achieved.  Points were deducted for being above or below 800 feet or for not being within the time period specified.

This is all done as an after-school activity.  Mentor Tracy Burns estimated that each student worked a minimum of 500 hours.  The team was four boys and three girls.  Each had an area of specialty to oversee.  One of the young ladies was in the 7th grade.  I had no clue what she was talking about as she explained what her role was.  (But then, I still use a flip phone and don’t send text messages.)

The team recently attended spent an evening at the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville rubbing shoulders with some major “players” in the U.S. space program.  One of the highlights was meeting Homer Hickam, a retired NASA employee.  Hickam’s book about his own start in the world of space travel in a West Virginia coal mining town was the best-seller Rocket Boys, which became the movie, October Sky in 1999.  Hickam’s story and that of the Russellville rocketeers have many parallels.

Rep. Morrow beamed like a proud papa all through the recognition.  And he repeatedly mentioned that these students are from public schools, not private schools or charter schools.  Unfortunately he was the only one of our 140 legislators there that day.  Too bad others were not.

There is much, much more to this story than I’m able to share today.  Hope to tell more later.  My first thought at the end of the event was what a wonderful video could be put together about this group of students.  A story that should be shown at least in every middle school in Alabama.

I’m working on what can be done to make this happen.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

You can learn more about the rocketeers here and here.