In the final round, only the top 25 schools compete, and at the moment, the Rebels’ launch is good enough for a two-way tie for 24th place. But more rocket launches remain. The Lodi team has to wait it out at the tent. A couple of Rebels stay behind to monitor the leader board.
Joe is the first to report back. “Guys, the last four teams did not beat us,” he says before returning to the board.
“You know what—that’s respectable, tied for 24th,” says Fusco. One rocket explodes, and Fusco watches the pieces tumble to the ground. “It’s devastating to the team because they practiced and tested it,” he says solemnly. A female Rebel screams with delight.
After the last rocket has launched, Fusco walks with the team to the leader board. Contestants have jammed around it 10, 15 deep. Carla emerges from the wall of bodies and yells: “Fusco—we’re still tied for 24th place!” She races back into the pack, but returns crestfallen. Four rockets have tied for 19th place, forcing the Rebels out of the running.
“Guys, we didn’t make it,” she says. “We’re out, guys.” She holds her face in her hands and breaks down. Two other Rebels start weeping, and the eyes of another two well up. The guys look stricken while they try to comfort the girls and one another.
“We got work to do next year, buddy,” says Fusco to Joe.
The Rebels still scored high enough for the consolation prize: Numbers 26 through 30 can launch another one for the crowd, even though it won’t count. The team nixes it right away. “Can we still launch the goose?” asks Little T, choking back tears. She’s carrying the mascot stuffed inside her hoodie.
Glumly, the Rebels know they have to listen to the final launches, sit through the awards ceremony, eat dinner, then cram themselves inside the van for the long ride home. A few of the Rebels make noise about cutting out early, but Fusco retorts that being a good sport is the right thing to do.
“Fusco’s great—he helps keep it in perspective,” says Fran Rozman, the head of Lodi’s science department, who first approached Fusco to run the club. “The kids just love him, his personality.”
To kill time, the Rebels begin a Frisbee free-for-all outside their tent that evolves into batting practice incorporating the various foam gimme objects the team has collected. Watching the horseplay, Fusco blurts, “Guys, blame me.”