Uplifting education

Balloon Rally provides pupils a fun learning experience

Nearly a dozen hot air balloon teams were able to inflate Friday, the opening day of the annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally, but winds kept them tethered.

Photo by Roger Harnack
Nearly a dozen hot air balloon teams were able to inflate Friday, the opening day of the annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally, but winds kept them tethered.


Outside ambient light illuminates the inside of the hot air balloon Sympatico on Friday at Pioneer Elementary School.


Rachel Larsen, 9, and brother, Benjamin Larsen, 3, both of Richland, cover their ears as a balloon burner roars to life.


Terry ‘Miss T’ Scholfield, thrills students with her Sympatico balloon Friday.


A hot air balloon burner is silhouetted by Friday morning’s sunrise.

Youngsters from throughout the region had an opportunity to learn about hot air balloons Friday, courtesy of the annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally.

About a dozen balloons were inflated at Prosser Airport, with a few pilots providing tethered flights just overhead. Building high-elevation winds and expected rain kept balloonists from getting a green light for go-flight.

Several youngsters were invited to take a quick trip up, up and away, just to get a feel for what hot air balloons are all about.

But since not all youngsters could get to Prosser, some balloon teams headed to area schools on sponsored visits with students.

In Sunnyside, Pioneer Elementary School students had an up-close opportunity to learn about hot air flights from pilot Terry “Miss T” Schofield.

Grandview residents Willard and Cathy Mears sponsored Schofield’s balloon, Sympatico.

“Our daughter-in-law is here doing her administration and teaching,” Cathy Mears said. “She asked us (to provide the sponsorship), so these kids could see the balloons.”

About 700 Pioneer students hit the field behind the school to see Miss T and Sympatico.

“We have to get these kids any cultural advantage we can,” Cathy Mears said.

Daughter-in-law Jennifer Mears agreed, noting her own children had seen hot air balloons in the past and she wanted her school children to see them as well.

“My kids are really, really excited to see the balloons,” Jennifer Mears said.

You didn’t have to look very hard to see the excitement.

Youngsters at the school watched intently as the balloon took shape, growing from a lifeless “tarp” on the ground into a large heated balloon above their heads.

Teacher Cricket Van Pelt was among the Sympatico’s ground crew volunteers. Her husband, Jacob Van Pelt, is a former teacher and a member of The Great Prosser Balloon Rally’s governing board.

“I’ve been flying 26 years,” Miss T said. “We fly all over the U.S. and we like to charm the children.”

As the balloon took its shape, hovering silently above the students, Miss T shouted: “Are you all charmed?” Almost in unison, pupils replied, “Yeah.”

“This is great,” Cathy Mears, a retired educator herself, said as she watched the potential balloonists smile while learning about balloons.

The youngsters filed by the basket to see the balloon, basket and burner up close. Intermittently, Miss T turned on the burner switch, kicking up a burst of heat and a roaring fire.

Some children screamed with surprise, awe-struck by what they were seeing. Others screamed with jubilation and thanked Miss T.

“I think they might be just a little excited,” Willard Mears said, watching the smiles on the youngsters’ faces.

The students applauded Willard and Cathy Mears for sponsoring the balloon’s $150 travel and set-up fee.

The activities at Pioneer Elementary followed an early morning attempt to get off the ground in Prosser.

With trial balloons showing difficult wind conditions and rain in the forecast, balloonists opted to inflate, but remain at Prosser Airport.

There, several children from the region — the Tri-Cities, Lower Yakima Valley, Yakima and even Selah — arrived before sunrise with their families, hoping to get a glimpse of the balloons taking flight.

With word of deteriorating weather conditions, a few pilots opted to offer youngsters a quick, tethered flight above the airport.

Jess Rafn, 29, of Wilsonville, Ore., took several children up, up and away.

“It’s disappointing when you don’t get to fly,” the metal fabricator said.

Vienne Alrashedy, 9, of Selah, was one of the first to climb into the basket and head skyward.

“It was fun,” she said. “I went up 50 feet in the air; it wasn’t scary.”

While Alrashedy enjoyed the flight, she said she doesn’t plan on becoming a hot air balloon pilot at this point in her life.

“I have better plans in my future,” she said.

But not all of the youth at the morning launch agreed.

McKenna Secrist, 16, of Bothell, has already made solo flights and is a certified hot air balloon pilot.

“When I was little, I’d watch the balloons fly in the valley,” she said. “We’d go out and chase them. I always wanted to be a pilot.”

By age 14, she had saved almost enough to purchase her own balloon.

“My Dad had to help me,” she said, noting that on July 11 – her 16th birthday – she became a pilot.

Rafn, a certified flight instructor, said Secrist may be the youngest pilot in the Pacific Northwest, if not the nation.

“She has 37 hours (of flight time),” he said.

Secrist joined Rafn in taking several area youth above the airfield.

Some children, like siblings Rachel Larsen, 9, and Benjamin Larsen, 3, were also all smiles, but covered their ears when Secrist energized the burner.

Secrist and Rafn also took the Miss Prosser royal court for a quick trip in the basket.

Miss Prosser Emma Anaya and princesses Ali Cox and Jasmine Salguero made the most of the opportunity by taking selfies as they flew above the airport.

On the ground, adults volunteered to help balloonists.

Sue Derryberry of Prosser had hoped the balloons would make it off the airport grounds for flights along the Yakima River and over downtown.

Despite the flight cancelation, her spirits weren’t dampened.

“This is amazing. I’ve been to every single one” of the Prosser rallies, she said. “It’s the only thing that gets me out here at 6:30 in the morning.”


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