BECKLEY — The Rocket Boys Festival went to new heights this year in Beckley as both young and old were inspired by the life of Homer Hickam and the quest for knowledge.
Festival director Scott Hill said “there’s probably no better place in the country” to have the event because of what the new location — the Exhibition Coal Mine and New River Park — has to offer: coal history, education and science — exactly what Hickam’s books are about.
This is the first time the festival has been in Beckley; it moved here after it was no longer feasible to be in Coalwood. Hill said he lost sleep about the possibility of not having the festival, and although it built its base over the years in Coalwood, hundreds of people made the soggy trip to Beckley to celebrate the Rocket Boys.
As Saturday’s event began in the cold, wet, overcast weather, Hickam told the crowd, “I can see sunshine in your hearts” to celebrate the Rocket Boys, West Virginia and its coalfields. Hickam also expressed his appreciation to the city of Beckley for hosting and continuing the Rocket Boys Festival.
Among those there to share their knowledge of science and engineering were about 20 students with Mountaineer Area Robotics (MARS), which is based in Morgantown, but has members from across West Virginia. MARS team members are mostly high school students who build robots and compete internationally. They attended the festival to demonstrate their robots to those in attendance.
MARS mentor and West Virginia University aerospace and mechanical engineering major Caroline Hamrick said she was looking forward to meeting Hickam and helping spread the word about the importance of math and science.
Gretchan Utzman, 8, of Morgantown, said she helped explain how the MARS robots worked to other children, but was looking forward to the tour of the coal mine.