Drone competition will feature 65 teams

Published 4:12 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Batesville will have hundreds of guests this weekend for a national aerial drone event at the Civic Center, and locals may hear a few “alohas” if they listen closely. That’s because one of the teams participating is traveling from Hawaii to join competitors from 17 other states.

South Panola Air Force JROTC Program will host the 2024 National All-Service JROTC Aerial Drone Championship over two days of intense competition from the best and brightest 65 JROTC drone teams from across the nation’s high schools.

Friday at 9 a.m. will see the opening ceremony followed by teams competing to qualify for the championship finals on Saturday, April 6. The teams will compete Friday and Saturday beginning both days at 10  a.m. with the championship match scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m.  

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The event is free to the public. Teachers and parents are encouraged to bring their students and children to watch the drone racing and obstacle courses.

 Lt. Col. Leonard Boothe, senior Aerospace Science Instructor said landing the national championship event for Batesville was driven by the recent success of the high school program.

“South Panola’s AFJROTC Drone Team has been recognized as one of the best JROTC Drone Teams in the nation and has qualified for the World Drone Championship for the past two years,” Boothe said. “We advocated for the event because we wanted our community, the state of Mississippi, and the nation to know that small schools and small communities are capable of hosting national events as well as compete against larger schools and communities.”

“Our goal is to showcase educational and STEM driven efforts that the South Panola School District possesses. There will be vendors, military recruiters, colleges/universities and local organizations available to discuss various STEM opportunities,” he said.

In addition to the championship tournament, nationally recognized Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) Leaders will participate in the “State of STEM” luncheon in conjunction with the national championship. 

On Friday at 11:30 a.m. a luncheon will be held at the Boothe Event Center (310W Hwy 6)  Tickets for the event are $15.

The  list of panelists who will participate in the STEM event include:

  • Dan Mantz, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board for the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation. The REC Foundation is one of the world’s leading STEM nonprofit organizations whose mission is to increase student interest and involvement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by engaging students in hands-on, affordable, and sustainable robotics engineering programs. 
  • Charisse Stokes, president of Tidal IT Solutions, a Montgomery, AL based information technology solutions, small business company. She is the former Director of the Education Foundation for the Montgomery Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Chapter providing STEM initiatives, grants, internships and scholarships. She is also the Director of EduWerx, a nonprofit organization exposing minorities and young women to STEM in the local River Region community. 
  • Charlie Spencer, who since February 2018 has led TN Valley Robotics: Supporting and Developing Robotics program in the Tennessee Valley Association (TVA) service area. Spencer leads a team of TVA employees, retirees and robotics enthusiasts who help support the organization’s robotics programs. He estimates that there are more than 500 elementary, middle and high school robotics programs across the valley, and more schools are becoming interested in starting programs. 
  • Marcus Hall, a 23-year Air Force veteran who deployed two multiple campaigns including Iraqi Freedom. He currently serves as a senior, Infrastructure Tech Manager for Amazon. He leads 800+ people supporting IT services in 12 states in the US and West Canada and previously led his team’s efforts for both Mexico and Brazil.  
  • Dr. Del Phillips is moderator for the event and superintendent of the South Panola School District.  Dr. Phillips has an extensive background in STEM, and led the top STEM school district in Tennessee prior to being hired in Batesville.