A group of Bunsold Middle School students will travel to Akron May 16-17 to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby Gravity Racing Challenge.
The students are part of the BASE (Bunsold After School Enrichment) program for seventh- and eighth-graders.
Program coordinator Zach Balch said BASE, which meets Monday through Thursday, provides an opportunity for homework, tutoring and academic intervention. It is funded by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant.
Balch said having the students build a soap box derby car is a perfect fit.
"The soap box derby is built around STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math. That's the kind of programs we want to run here," he said.
The 15 participating students work as drivers, pit crew or media team members. This year, they will take six cars to the Akron competition: the two taken last year and four new ones.
In order to make competition equal, each team buys a $600 kit to build their car.
"We go out and seek sponsorships from the community. Some of our sponsors are the Scotts Co., North Main Motors, Good as Gold, which does our T-shirts, and Graphic Stitch. They design the wraps for our cars," Balch said.
The group went on a trial run April 5 at the Central Ohio Gravity Racing Challenge. Seventh-grade driver Sally Saindon took first place and seventh-grader Keith Prinster took fourth place. Other drivers are: seventh-graders Ben Alexander, K.C. Heimbigner, Caleb Erwin and Claire Ruff and one returning team member from last year, eighth-grader Chris McCoy.
Each student wants something different from the Akron competition, which will be much larger than the Columbus event. Prinster said he wants fun. McCoy has his sights on a trophy, while Saindon is looking for a lot of excitement.
"I need to improve on academics and want to just have fun," Alexander said.
The soap box derby program is optional for BASE students. Balch said participants sign up and identify what they would like to do on the team. He looks for particular qualities in drivers.
"In the driver, we're looking for somebody that's going to be a leader for our team. Somebody that's fully committed to be in there when we're working on the cars or practicing," Balch said. "It's like being a quarterback of a football team. (You've) got to be there when other people aren't and sometimes going above and beyond what some of the other people might have to do."
Balch said the idea for a soap box derby team came from eighth-grade science teacher Suzanne Clarridge, who thought it would be a great teaching tool for students to learn physics, engineering and math. She didn't have time to take on such a project in her classroom, so she suggested the BASE program.
Last year's race in Akron drew 90 teams. This year, 115 are signed up.
The races follow a bracket format; once a driver loses a race, the student is done. Balch and his students hope that with six teams, they have a good shot at bringing home a trophy.
McCoy shared the most important tip he learned from last year's competition: Stay low.
Alexander said drivers have to get low and keep the car in a straight line.
"I'm hoping to win races. No one in my family has done this," he said.
The overnight trip will be funded through sponsorships and donors. Balch said the students can hardly wait.
"They are pumped," he said.