By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – A team of Tupelo High School students won a state robotics competition this week and now will compete in the world championships.
The six-member team placed first in the VEX Robotics State Competition on Tuesday at the Mississippi Department of Education’s headquarters in Jackson. Juniors Ben Alford, Jalen Eddie, Patrick Langford and Levi Ray and sophomores Alex Scruggs and Kyle Praseut now will advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Anaheim, Calif., April 23-26.
A second THS team of juniors Lizzie Buford and Cortevious Shields and sophomores Alex Drumm, Dilan Patel and Sajan Zaver won the design award at the state competition. Although a miscommunication originally had led them to believe they had qualified for the world championship too, they will not compete at that event. That team still will compete at the TSA State Robotics Championship with hopes to qualify for the National TSA Competition in Washington, D.C.
All of the students are in THS teacher Amanda Gamble Wood’s Engineering I class.
“I’m excited,” said Wood, who also serves as the teams’ coach. “Words can’t describe how proud I am of them. They spent a lot of time after school and on weekends. They deserve this. They exceeded my expectations.”
The teams have worked on their robots since January, including much time outside of their class. They had to design their own device to meet the requirements of the game.
This year’s competition used a game called “Toss Up.” Teams earned points by moving various balls placed on a court. They also had to knock down balls that rested 12 inches above the ground and lift others into a two-foot-high tube. For the first 15 seconds of the competition, the robot must move on its own, guided by a program created by the students. Students can then use remotes to guide it for the final minute and 45 seconds.
“It is fun to mess with programming,” Praseut said. “Seeing what the robot can do is always interesting.”
During each match, two teams pair up to face two other teams. Those pairings are randomly assigned during the opening rounds. Teams can select alliances for the elimination rounds, trying to find another team that complements their robot. The format forces competitors to work with those from other schools they haven’t previously met.
The competition is a good way to learn self-discipline and sportsmanship, Eddie said. It also teaches problem-solving, added Drumm.
“When you have a match that starts in 30 seconds and something is not working on your robot, you have to decide if you have time to fix it now or how to fix it,” he said. “It is stressful but rewarding.”
The World Championships will feature 400 teams from across the United States and from China, Japan, New Zealand and France, among other countries. Tupelo is currently seeking sponsors to fund its trip. Anyone interested can contact Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.