Story provided by Stillwater Public Schools
Hundreds of young competitors from around the state converged on Stillwater Middle School (SMS) last weekend to match wits and engineering savvy via robotic competition. Forty-six teams from around the state, some from three or four hours away, gathered to face each other regionally for the opportunity to advance to the state tournament.
For the second year in a row, SMS Engineering Teacher and Robotics Coach Emily Harris coordinated efforts to host VEX IQ Challenge, part of the number one robotic league tournament in the world. “I love providing an opportunity for students to be competitive with something that’s not your typical athletic team,” says Harris, who attended training during the summer to become a VEX IQ event partner, learning how to run a tournament and the current competition specifics, which change each year.
Hosting the tournament raises funds for the Stillwater teams, offsetting some out-of-state tournament expenses and helping fund equipment.
SMS sixth grader Shilynn Ropers enjoyed the contest. “It’s really fun,” she said as her eyes darted around the auditorium anticipating the next match. “Very competitive, very stressful, but fun.”
Throughout the day, teams exhibited their technical know-how by pitting their robotic creations against each other in a variety of contests, receiving points based on how well they accomplish the specific goals of each match.
The young Pioneers disagreed about which event type is the most intense. “Alliance is the most stressful,” said Jacob Storm, as he checked a robot between matches. “That’s when two robots are on the same field at the same time being driven by teams of drivers.”
Teammate Alex Dosev disagreed. “Autonomous is the most stressful.” That is when a robot executes a series of tasks the students have programmed it to do with no live control. “It just has to run its routine. There’s coding, so much coding,” he nodded his head emphatically. “So many variables. So many things can go wrong.”
With 46 teams and a variety of competition types, 470 matches occurred Saturday. The middle school’s newly expanded gym was perfect for the tournament with plenty of room for up to four matches happening at a time, but even then students and volunteers had to move fast to assume their locations and reset the courses between matches.
Harris received a great deal of assistance from parents and volunteers to run the event. “I could not have done this without the help of these volunteers. Especially those from OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture & Technology. They have provided just invaluable help volunteering and judging the matches.”
Stillwater Middle School Robotics members are: Zabe Abouzahr, Ahmed Al-Janabi, Evan Belden, Kairi Bruck, Gabe Campbell, Ethan Christy, Alex Dosev, Chane Jacob, Alex Ji, Jonathan Ku, William Lin, Bodey Morgan, Sean Lynch, Avery Ownby-Hardy, Alex Peetom, Shilynn Ropers, Jacob Storm, and Taksh Vaghela.
Following the results of Saturday’s matches, all five Stillwater teams qualified for state, either through tournaments or by ranking high enough in the skills portion of the competition, and will head to the state competition in Tahlequah on March 7. If they qualify at state, they’ll advance and travel to Louisville, Kentucky for VEX Worlds, April 26-28.
Several Stillwater teams also took home honors including the Excellence Award and Judges Award. Both Skills Champions and Teamwork Champions awards were claimed by the team of Al-Janabi, Dosev, Ku, and Lin and are now ranked number one in the state.
Harris is looking forward to the next round and more time teaching the young engineers. “They love it,” says Harris. “They live and breathe this stuff. They’d be in my room doing robotics 24 hours a day if I’d let them.”