Tallmadge Schools' Soap Box Derby Clubs excel at Gravity Racing Challenge

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The Tallmadge City School's Soap Box Derby Clubs recently competed in the Soap Box Derby's Gravity Racing Challenge educational outreach program in Akron May 17.

The Gravity Racing Challenge (GRC) is in its fifth year offering Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related curriculum as well as competition racing to schools across the U.S. This year, the GRC had 120 cars compete from more than 50 schools all across the nation.

The Soap Box Derby Club is based at the middle school, but comprises members from Munroe Elementary, Tallmadge Middle and Tallmadge High School. This year's club had 10 students ranging in age from 9 to 15 and third through ninth grades. The club entered four cars in this year's GRC challenge -- two in the Stock Division and two in the Super Stock Division.

Advisers for the Soap Box Derby Club are TMS Technology teacher Justin Christopher, THS Technology teacher Keith Bee, THS Librarian Kelli Christopher and Tallmadge resident Joe Bozic. Munroe Elementary was represented by third-grade stock car driver Ella Bee. The middle school was represented by stock car driver Dylan Theisen, Super Stock car driver Cailey Bozic, Super Stock driver Rhiannon Duncan and pit crew members Nicholas Drayer, Kamden Watts, Emily Kiss, Kaylee McKee, and Barry Li. Returning member Noah Jackson represented the high school and acted as pit crew chief during the race.

While the GRC does culminate in a race, the racing, in actuality, is only one small part of the overall competition. Students actually compete in seven different categories which include the design of a banner, a T-shirt, Soap Box Derby promotion poster, car theme, infomercial, press release and race. Christopher said it was his goal to expand the program over time to include teams at the elementary and high school and this year it happened.

"It is the goal of the Tallmadge City Schools to have a streamlined K-12 STEM curriculum, and the Gravity Racing Challenge is a perfect platform to get kids excited about STEM curriculum," he said. Having students represent three of our school buildings in the competition this year helped us reach our goal of streamlining the STEM program."

This year, Kelli Christopher worked with the TMS students on the non-racing competitions and under her guidance, the kids won some awards. Eighth-grader Emily Kiss won second-place in the Photography contest for her Soap Box Cars in Motion entry, and seventh-grader Dylan Theisen won first-place for his GRC Press Release entry.

Tallmadge High School Technology teacher Keith Bee was also instrumental in the success of our club this year, said Christopher. While the high school did not have a driver in the race, Bee did have his Advanced Metal's class mass produce the weights necessary to meet the weight requirements for each respective racing division. Keith was able to turn making the weights for the cars into a lesson in real-world mass production for his students.

"Last year our club got a taste of being in the winning circle, placing second in the Stock Division and third in the Super Stock Division and the kids had a great time but we were not satisfied," said Christopher. Building on the success of last year's team and leaning heavily on Soap Box derby guru Joe Bozic set out to improve the team's performance.

"Joe knows Soap Box Derby racing and is the driving force behind helping the kids be successful at building and racing Soap Box Derby Cars," said Christopher, noting Joe is the grandfather of club member Cailey Bozic and Joe takes Cailey and his other granddaughters rally racing just about every weekend throughout the year.

"This year truly was a family affair," said Christopher. Club advisor Keith Bee's daughter Ella drove a Stock Car and competed for her first time ever in the GRC event.

"Ella was so excited about racing that she told her Dad that she definitely wanted to do it again next year. Coach Bozic noted that Ella was a natural driver and hopes that she will be able to Rally race a few times before next year's GRC challenge. Ella made it to the final eight out of 24 cars competing in the Stock Division."

Last year seventh-grader Dylan Theisen and his father, Steve, caught the racing bug at the GRC challenge and have been Rally racing to earn enough points to make it to the All American. Dylan returned from last year's second-place finish to capture third-place in the Sock Division this year.

"To have Dylan place in the top three two years in a row is outstanding and a testament to his skill as a driver," said Christopher. "I have no doubt that he will be in the winner's circle again next year."

The TMS-SBD club made it to the final four in two divisions and the elite eight in another. Eighth-grader Cailey Bozic made it to the final four and ended up winning first-place in the Super Stock Division.

"For Cailey to win first-place in the Super Stock Division is a remarkable feat," said Christopher. The Super Stock Division had a record 96 cars competing. "Our goal as a team last year was to place a first-place champion on the winner's stand, and that goal came to fruition when Cailey won." said Christopher, adding "To see all the hard work that Cailey's grandfather, Joe, puts in with the kids to help them be successful and then walk away with his granddaughter winning the GRC is very gratifying."

Tallmadge City Schools was the only school district to walk away with two racing trophies in two different racing divisions on the day.

"Coming away with two top four finishers is outstanding. Our goal for next year will continue to be putting a first-place champion on the winner's stand."

Cailey Bozic and Dylan Theisen plan on continuing to race in the local Summit County Race this coming weekend, the All American, and next year's GRC challenge.

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