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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Solar Car Team Wins National Title
by Tanya Lee - Indian Country Today correspondent
credits: Photos courtesy of the Choctaw Central High School solar car team

The Choctaw Central High School Solar Car Team has an opportunity to participate in the World Solar Car Race in Australia in 2011 after winning a national championship this summer.

The team won the Hunt-Winston Solar Car Challenge, a cross-country race beginning on July 18 at the Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, Texas and ending on July 25 at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Advisor and mentor Frankie Germany said while other teenagers were out having fun during the summer months, the school's Solar Car Project Team was hard at work at the Occupational Training Center.

"These students built a battery box in the solar car, wired and rewired the 30 new lithium ion batteries, added a new battery monitoring system, revamped the driver canopy, tested tires and test drove the vehicle," Germany said.

They programmed the race route into the computer, diagramed the electrical system for scrutineering, and practiced safety maneuvers in preparation for the upcoming Solar Car Challenge, which is the product of the Winston Solar Education program and includes both track and cross-country races.

A total of 12 solar powered vehicles from across the nation participated in the race. These cars were divided into three divisions: Advanced, Open, and Classic.

Tushka Hashi III, the CCHS solar car, competed in the Advanced Division.

"The concept of working as a team began with the months of work on the solar car and crystallized during the race," Germany said.

Every person had a responsibility and those responsibilities varied daily. At the team meeting each night, the co-captains, team members and mentors Joey Long, Liddia Hughes and Germany made decisions about who had each responsibility for the following day.

The three girls were the drivers, but when not driving, they also had jobs such as safety person, judge liaison and navigator.

The boys were in charge of safety, judge liaison, auxiliary battery preparation, radios, and general maintenance on the vehicle. By the end of the trip, the team had become such a cohesive unit that the mentors had little to decide; the team took care of it on their own, Germany said.

"These students took ownership of the entire project and race and became mature and responsible young adults," she said. "This was only one of the many benefits of the solar car experience."

Tasha Laird, one of the co-captains, said she learned much more than just the science of mechanical or electrical engineering.

"The experiences of meeting the public, speaking to strangers, developing self-confidence, and working as a team are some of the most important parts of the solar car experience," Laird said. "I know this has helped me to prepare for college."

During the race, all teams were required to stop at designated towns for a morning break, lunch and an afternoon break before reaching the daily destination.

At these towns, Chambers of Commerce, clubs and organizations often had water and refreshments for the team as they displayed the cars for the public.

News reporters and radio personalities interviewed the teams.

Kursten Watkins and Long were on live radio for approximately 15 minutes at a lunch stop in Hereford, Texas.

"Kursten impressed the crowd with the confidence and composure of a television anchor woman while on the radio," Germany said.

Tushka Hashi III received a great deal of attention at each stop due to its aerodynamic design and the fact that it was the first car to reach each destination. As a result, the team members were asked all manners of questions about the car and the race.

Zach Renville, Chris Watkins and Josh Farmer all became adept at answering questions while putting kindergarten children into the seat of the car for photo opportunities, mentors said.

The students handed out over 600 Tushka Hashi III brochures in five states, informing all who saw the car and read the brochure about the unparalleled solar car program at CCHS and proving the intelligence and expertise of these dedicated young ambassadors for the Tribe, Germany said.

"One reporter was amazed that words like acid battery, lithium ion battery, wattage, amperes and auxiliary batteries are a part of these students' everyday vocabulary," Germany said.

Co-captains Trisilla Willis and Laird and the team of Kursten Watkins, Chris Watkins, Zach Renville and Josh Farmer fulfilled the team's goal and dream since the car was built in 2007 which was to win the race.

The Tushka Hashi III team drove the 853.5 mile race in a total of 24.5 hours with an average speed of 35 miles per hour.

They were the only team in all divisions to complete all the miles and with the fastest time of any vehicle in the race, giving them the distinction of becoming the 2010 National High School Solar Car Champions.

Not only did the team win the overall championship, they won the day trophy every day of the race for being the first car to reach the daily destination, the Hunt Award for Engineering Excellence and an Appreciation Award for Excellent Team Spirit.

Willis was awarded The Order of the Solar Cell, presented to extremely special people who believe in high school solar car racing and the students who make it happen.

"This is awesome!" Willis said as she claimed the five-foot tall trophy for the team. "What a great way to end my solar car career!"

She has been a team member for four years and this was her final race. Immediately upon returning to Choctaw, she was off to basic training for the Army National Guard.

Team members and mentors alike agreed that this was the most exciting race they have participated in.

"The community support shown and the surprise welcome home reception were highlights in an exhausting yet satisfying 14-day trip," Germany said. "The team is now looking to the future, with trips to visit the Seminole Tribe in Florida to introduce those students to solar energy and robotics, another solar race in Houston, Texas in April, and who knows, maybe even a trip to the Australian outback in 2011."

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