Presidio rocketry teams receive hometown welcome after national competition

PRESIDIO — Presidio High School’s two rocketry teams returned from the national competition on Monday evening with a police escort — not for illicit activity, but to celebrate their showing in Virginia. Family members and emergency vehicles started queuing up by the “Welcome to Presidio” sign around 8:30 p.m.

Justice of the Peace Juanita Bishop spearheaded the impromptu parade. Her son, Mason, got involved with the rocketry program this year — she’d noticed that successful sports teams would get escorts into town, but the brainiacs didn’t always get the same fanfare. “I think everyone should get recognized, everyone should have that feeling of getting escorted into Presidio,” she said. 

Judge Bishop enlisted the help of Presidio ISD Police Chief Joel Nuñez and called in favors from friends at Border Patrol and the Department of Public Safety. Presidio County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Hinojos and Holguin were quick to respond. Fire chief Saul Pardo lent the city’s engine to the effort. Rocketry coach Luzviminda Sto. Domingo kept everyone in the loop, texting Bishop periodically as the team made their way back from the El Paso airport. 

When the kids were reunited with their loved ones at the “Welcome to Presidio” sign, Presidio Fire Department volunteers helped the kids climb up on top of the engine. As the sun finally sank behind the mountains outside Ojinaga, the procession started into town, sirens blaring. Friends and supporters came out in the streets to watch the parade go by. 

The Presidio ISD rocketry program has been making headlines since 2009, their debut at nationals — a photo of Presidio’s team graces the Wikipedia entry for The American Rocketry Challenge (TARC). Coach Luzviminda Sto. Domingo took the reins in 2019, after inheriting the successful program from its founder, Shella Condino. 

Competition involves assembling model rockets from scratch and launching them in timed heats. The goal is to reach a certain altitude within a small window of time, and return the rocket to the ground without cracking a pair of eggs inside the rocket simulating passengers. 

This year, the two Presidio teams made it to the top 100 out of 724 total teams from around the country, earning them a spot at the national competition. Team Space Fam — helmed by Ramon Rodriguez and teammates Kenia Hernandez, Mason Bishop, Abdiel Bustamante, Mark Joshua Sto. Domingo and Robert Loya-Loya — placed 57th. 

Team Astra — led by Irlanda Sotelo with help from Yahir Brito, Maria Lujan, Karla Valdivia, Claudia Piedra, and Maya Fausett — earned an excellent score on their launch, but were not allowed to advance to the next round because the judges found a tiny crack on the egg inside their rocket.