Rocket Boys Festival in its final year

File photo“Mrs. Gilligan” Dreama Denver and Rocket Boy Roy Lee Cooke make a quick final inspection prior to the rocket launching portion of events at the Rocket Boys Festival last year at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.

The 20th annual Rocket Boys Festival is kicking off its final series of events in Beckley Thursday, Sept. 26.

Festival Director Scott Hill says this is the last chance for anyone wanting to partake in the three-day event.

“This is our 20th year we’ve done it. This is the final year,” Hill said.

“Homer and many of the other Rocket Boys have been traveling back every year to support the festival and meet fans of their story and that travel is getting tougher each year."

The first 13 Rocket Boy Festivals were held in Coalwood in McDowell County. The event moved to Beckley in 2012.

Hill says the Rocket Boys, all in their 70s, agreed to five additional years when the event changed location.

They went above and beyond their commitment making this the eighth year they’ve came to Raleigh County. All because they love West Virginia, Hill said.

“Twenty years is a good place to say, 'What’s next?” Hill said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Homer Hickam’s classic “Rocket Boys” becoming a New York Time’s best seller.

It is also the 20th anniversary of the release of the movie “October Sky,” which is based on Hickam’s memoir.

The 20th Rocket Boys Festival promises a jam-packed weekend of events including a 5K and 10K race, essay contests, rocket launches, food and vendors, and more.

The festival will be kicked off with an appearance by Beckley native Morgan Spurlock on Sept. 26.

Spurlock, who is best known for his Academy Award-nominated documentary “Super Size Me” will be screening his newest film “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken” at Tamarack at 7 p.m.

On Sept. 27, Rocket Boys author Homer Hickam will host a “Storyteller’s Workshop” at Tamarack alongside Rhayne Thomas and Jon Wikstrom.

Hill says the workshop and the mini-musical at 7 p.m. on the Sept. 27 are both slated to be unforgettable experiences.

“Rocket boys is the most read boys I think in schools now. It’s amazing to have that type caliber of a person here,” Hill said.

“The cool thing is you get to interact with these guys that step right out of the book.”

Hickam has authored 19 best-selling books (several set in his native West Virginia) including “Rocket Boys."

After graduating from Big Creek High School, Hickam served in Vietnam War and eventually achieved his dream of working for NASA as an engineer and astronaut trainer both in the U.S. and abroad.

This year, Hickam served as the board chairman at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., for the 50th anniversary festivities of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

He also is a member of the United States Space Council and testified before Congress advocating for a return to the moon.

“He’s such a cool individual,” Hill said. “He just has a very calm, very cool presence.”

Proceeds from the Rocket Boys Festival supports Theatre West Virginia.

For more information, visit or call 304-992-9085.

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Thursday, Sept. 26

7 p.m. Morgan Spurlock will be at Tamarack’s HC Smith Theater for a screening of his newest film “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken”. A special question and answer session will occur after the film. Tickets are $15.

Friday, Sept. 27

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Rocket Boys at the Exhibition Coal Mine. This a free event.

3:30-5 p.m. Storytelling workshop with Homer Hickam at Tamarack’s HC Smith Theater. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students and teachers.

7 p.m. The Mini Musical “Homer, Elsie and Sonny” starring Homer Hickam, Rhayne Thomas and Carl Traman with special guest Jon Wikstrom. Organizers are calling it a “once in a lifetime” experience. Tickets are $35.

8:30 p.m. Follow up question and answer session with Homer and cast

Saturday, Sept. 28

7:45-8:45 a.m. Race Registration for Beckley Rocket Run 5K and 10K

8 a.m. Rocket Boys Festival gates open at Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. There will be educational displays, food, crafts and specialty vendors

9 a.m. Opening Ceremonies and race events begin (all races start and end in front of Exhibition Coal Mine Rahall Company Store)

9:10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Writer’s Row opens with Meet and Greet with Homer Hickam

11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. First Community Bank LaunchPad Opens

12-1 p.m. Middle School Essay Contest

1:30-5 p.m. Fourth annual Rocket Launch Contest

2:30-3:30 p.m. High School Essay contest

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