The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 5, 2013

Hickam tells students of life and ‘October Skies’

Part of this weekend's Rocket Boys Festival

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — As a part of the Rocket Boys Festival, the original Rocket Boy himself, Homer Hickam, talked to middle-schoolers at the Exhibition Coal Mine Friday about his life and the movie “October Sky.”

Chris Owen, who played the brainy Quentin Wilson in “October Sky,” also attended the event.

Over 200 students from Webster and Ritchie counties spent their morning at the Exhibition Coal Mine and Youth Museum, learning more about the Rocket Boys, coal mining and more.

Parker Stout, 12, a seventh grader, said he had a really fun day.

Although he won’t get to attend the Rocket Boys Festival this weekend, he said he was glad he got a chance to visit the Exhibition Coal Mine.

“I actually had met Homer before. I have a couple of books signed by him.”

Parker said he is a big fan of the movie, October Sky, and his favorite part is when their rocket goes off course.

Another student who attended the event, Rigel Surbaugh, 11, a sixth grader, said his favorite part in the movie was when Homer accidentally blew up his mom’s fence.

Surbaugh had also met Homer before, but was excited to ask him several questions about the movie, and how much of the movie happened in real life.

One of the accompanying teachers, Penny Lamb, said the story of the Rocket Boys is great to incorporate in the education of her sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

“We teach them about space, and rocketry fits in really well,” Lamb said.

“We bring the students once every three years to the Exhibition Coal Mine and we were lucky this year that it coincided with the festival and Homer being in town.”

A variety of events are on tap today at the Exhibition Mine and New River Park. Among them are state Paper Airplane Flight championship, rocket launches, music and more.

The day wraps up with the 23rd annual Chili Night in Uptown Beckley. Vendors will be serving samples of the best chili beginning at 5 p.m. The $5 admission includes five sample tickets and a People’s Choice voting coin. Additional tickets will be available on-site.

For a full list of festival events, visit and

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