The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 11, 2013

Rocket Boys Festival set for second launch


By Brandi Underwood
Register-Herald Reporter

RONCEVERTE — Following the success of the popular Theatre West Virginia summer performance, “Rocket Boys the Musical,” fans of the rowdy small-town West Virginia science gang will be able to get yet another fix, as the October Sky Rocket Boys Festival is set to take place Oct. 4-6.  

Last year marked the premiere of the Rocket Boy Festival in Beckley. The event was previously held in Coalwood, the Rocket Boys’ hometown, for 13 years and in 2012 made the move to Beckley due to better accessibility and lodging benefits for visitors.  

Roy Lee Cooke, one of the original six Rocket Boys, including Homer Hickam, Billy Rose, Quentin Wilson, Jimmy O’Dell Carroll and Sherman Siers, spoke at Beckley Rotary Club’s Tuesday meeting to promote the upcoming event.

After being away from West Virginia for many years, Cooke said that he has since returned, establishing different business ventures and again living here almost full-time.

“I love being back in the state,” he said.

Cooke said that the purpose of the Rocket Boys Festival is to take you back in time to the October Sky days.

“It is a way to not only keep the story of Coalwood and the Rocket Boys alive, but it is yet another way to bring people’s attention to Beckley,” Cooke said.

In America, people can always identify with (a story like) October Sky, whether they grew up in a mining town, a mill town, or just a rural community, Cooke said.

Cooke said the festival is also a way to foster learning and raise awareness of the successful people that the state has produced, as a number of the events comprising the festival are educational.

The family-friendly festival will take place on the first weekend of October at Tamarack and the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and boast a multitude of events, including several screenings of “October Sky,” a 5k run/walk, a writer’s workshop hosted by Hickam, a song contest, a paper airplane competition, a bottle rocket competition, educational displays, craft and food vendors, Chili Night and many other events. A full list can be found on


This year, the Prodigy Foundation’s Freida J. Riley Achievement Award for Teacher of the Year has been moved to Beckley also. The ceremony has been held at Clarksburg in past years, Cooke said.   

“The 2013 West Virginia Teacher of the Year has been selected as of last week, and I can’t say who they are, but I can say that the winner is from southern West Virginia,” Cooke said.

Each year, one West Virginia teacher who works with a physical disability, teaches in an especially challenging educational environment, or has performed a heroic act by making an exceptional, personal or physical sacrifice on behalf of students is selected for the award.

The award is named after Miss Freida Joy Riley, a teacher of math and sciences at Big Creek High School in Coalwood in the 1950s and early ‘60s. Riley battled Hodgkin's disease, and through her teaching and leading by example, inspired her students, including the Rocket Boys, to overcome small-town adversity to achieve their dreams.

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