Child pilots paper McCarran for Palooza

There was this boy in a purple T-shirt who looked like he could throw a baseball straight through a catcher’s mitt.

And this guy, a ticket agent for a small airline, who knew a thing or two about making paper airplanes.

It was almost as if they were destined to meet, the boy named Maurice and the airline guy named B.J. Tainatongo.

“Let’s go try it out,” Tainatongo said. “Throw it hard.”

That’s what 10-year-old Maurice did, he threw that paper airplane really hard. He threw it so hard it sailed through the air like a rocket. It thwacked the balloon display 60 feet away and bounced off like a brick.

This was unusual at the Paper Plane Palooza. Many of the planes did not sail through the air like rockets. They were floppy, or they did loops, or they were excellent gliders, drifting like dandelions on the air-conditioned breeze, twirling and spinning, at the mercy of physics, aerodynamics, landing softly perhaps 12 feet away.

Which is not necessarily a winning strategy in a distance competition.

Which is what the Palooza was, on its face, a paper airplane competition among 29 kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas.

The Palooza was dreamed up by the very clever people at McCarran International Airport as a way to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of Terminal 3, the massive expansion of the airport.

That’s not normally a thing, the expanding of an airport. But it is kind of a big deal in Las Vegas, obviously. Forty million people visit us every year. Most of them come by plane.

Thus the celebration.

Debbie Smith, director of development with the Boys & Girls Clubs, said the kids came from three of the group’s seven clubs in town.

To them, it was their last field trip before school starts next week. But she hoped it would be more than that.

“A lot of them have never been to the airport,” she said. She thought maybe the kids would interact with the adults — ticket agents and baggage handlers and Transportation Security Agency agents — and they might get an idea that the people out there working those rarely seen jobs are just regular folks.

Maybe the kids would think they could do something cool like that when they grow up.

“It’ll help open their eyes,” she said.

It certainly opened the eyes of the boy in the purple shirt, Maurice.

“I didn’t know how to make this kind of plane,” he said.

What he was holding and then throwing didn’t seem that special. Just some folded paper. But it was. Viewing the practice sessions made it clear that Maurice was going to win.

Maurice made the plane with help from Tainatongo, a ticket agent with WestJet, a Canadian airline.

Tainatongo said he grew up in Guam, and he came to Las Vegas a few years ago to attend UNLV.

He’s always been good at making paper airplanes. He even won a competition or two back in middle and high school, he said.

So when it came time for the competition, well, Maurice had this thing in the bag.

Eight feet, a plane went. Thirty feet, 15, 35, 30, 30, 20, 10, and so on. Except Maurice’s went way past the 60-foot mark.

He did even better in round two, maybe 80 feet. And then in round three, it went past his round two mark and stopped only when it hit someone’s shoe.

Maurice beamed.

He didn’t do very well in the accuracy competition, with the beefy arms and the rock-solid rocket plane. A girl named Heaven won that one.

But it didn’t really matter at that point. Every kid there, the flyers and the gliders and the rockets and the floaters, the spinners and the twisters and even the ones that liked to do those loops that drive you crazy because you have no idea where they’re going to land, they all had a good time.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at or 702-383-0307.

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