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VIDEO: Clarence High School Rocket Team to Compete at American Rocketry Challenge

VIDEO: Clarence High School Rocket Team to Compete at American Rocketry Challenge

The Rocket Team at Clarence High School has reached new heights as they qualified to compete at the American Rocketry Challenge for the first time in school history.

“It’s crazy,” said Ellen Weiss, a sophomore on the team and captain of the team’s qualifying rocket. “I didn’t think we’d be doing this at the beginning of the year.”

The contest challenges teams to build a model rocket to carry an egg to an altitude of 820 feet, remain airborne for 43 to 46 seconds and return to the ground with their egg cargo unbroken. Teams are penalized with points for how much they miss the altitude and timing guidelines, and teams compete for the lowest score.

The team booked its place in the national competition, to be held May 18 in The Plains, Va., with a qualifying flight score that also won a regional competition on March 23 at East Aurora High School. The rocket's altitude is revealed after a flight in the form of beeps by an onboard altimeter, meaning the team had to wait and hear out the beeps to learn how their rocket performed. When everything was tabulated, the team learned they won the competition by a margin of about three feet of rocket altitude. 

“For the students, it didn’t sink in until the next day that this was a huge accomplishment,” said Thomas Maroney, a Clarence High School engineering teacher who serves as the team’s coach.

The team has been active in different forms since 2018, and this year’s squad includes seniors Colin Bodensteiner, Xander Rahn, Jake Gaston and Ryan Westerling, sophomore Ellen Weiss and freshman Charles Hahn. A common thread among the team members is their dedication to putting in the time outside of school day to talk through ideas and figure out solutions. 

“This is like the Avengers,” Ryan Westerling said, recounting the recruitment of engineering-interested students at the start of the year. 

The team’s success isn’t slowing their preparations. Gathering at East Aurora High School on a Saturday morning with members of Moog’s ARC Committee, the team practiced multiple launches with their rockets. Each launch provides new data on weather and wind and introduces new challenges to overcome, along with the practical challenges of reclaiming all of the pieces of their rocket from trees and muddy fields. 

“It definitely takes a lot of testing,” Ellen said. “It’s not all successes.”

That kind of learning and perseverance will help the team members at the national competition, Maroney said. Once the competition starts, the students will have to work on their own on a challenge made for the competition.

“They’re going to go there and have the confidence to know that they can do this,” Maroney said. “You’re going to need that perseverance to get through life. You can’t give up.”

The competition bills itself as the world’s largest, with the competition reporting a record-breaking 922 teams entered this year. Clarence is one of 100 finalists from across the country competing for $100,000 in prizes and the title of National Champion, which includes an all-expenses-paid trip to London for the International Rocketry Challenge in July.

Beyond this year’s senior-laden squad, team members hope that this year’s success can fuel the team to future high-level opportunities.

“It’s really a cool thing to be the first for Clarence to do this,” Charles Hahn said. “It’s a really difficult thing, but we hope we can build a legacy of Clarence going to nationals.”

The team is just one of the ways that the Clarence Central School District encourages students to consider opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). High school students are also able to take part in classes through the Project Lead the Way Engineering program and Technology education classes, which combines hands-on learning with STEM challenges through its coursework.

More information about the American Rocketry Challenge can be found at

From left to right, Clarence High School students Charles Hahn, Ellen Weiss and Colin Bodensteiner watch the launch of a rocket at East Aurora High School on May 4, 2024.
From left to right, Clarence High School’s Rocket Team members Ryan Westerling, Xander Rahn, Jake Gaston, Ellen Weiss, Colin Bodensteiner, Charles Hahn pose for a photo prior to a test launch at East Aurora High School on May 4, 2024.
Clarence High School students Jake Gaston and Ryan Westerling speak with teacher Thomas Maroney and Ira Johnson, from Moog’s ARC Committee, about their rocket.
Charles Hahn, Colin Bodensteiner and Ellen Weiss prepare a rocket for a launch at East Aurora High School on May 4, 2024.