Robotics team to travel to national competition

March 23, 2012

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

An outpouring of community support will help send the robotics team from the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science and Technology to St. Louis, Mo., in April to compete in the FIRST Championship finals.

Three groups, including the governor’s school team, won top honors Saturday in the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Virginia Regional at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Stuart C. Siegel Center to advance to the finals in St. Louis.

After the win, Brian Pace, director of the Governor’s School and adult mentor for the team, was worried that the team wouldn’t be able to afford to travel to St. Louis. But within three days of returning from Richmond, “the community stepped up,” Pace said.

Different sources, such as the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, New College Institute and Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, a technology company in South Boston, contributed a total of about $16,000 to the St. Louis trip, he said.

A total of $18,000 is needed, but Pace said he is hopeful of reaching that amount because people still are contacting him wanting to help.

The 14 students and five adult mentors will travel more than 12 hours on a charter bus to reach St. Louis, Pace said. The competition will be held April 25-28.

The team earned the right to compete there as a result of its victory in Richmond.

“It was a total team effort, and I couldn’t be more proud” of the team, Pace said.

This is the ninth year that the governor’s school has competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Virginia Regional and the first time it has advanced to the championship finals, he added.

At the Virginia Regional, the students operated a robot to shoot basketballs into a hoop to earn points. For bonus points, the team attempted to balance its robot on a 12-foot bridge, according to team member Preston Duff.

The competition involved 59 teams from Virginia, the Carolinas, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., according to a news release.

The teams were grouped into three-team alliances. The governor’s school team competed in 10 qualification matches and six championship elimination rounds, Duff said.

In the qualification matches, teams were randomly selected for the alliances, but for the championship elimination rounds, the top-seeded teams got to choose who they wanted in their alliance, according to team member Haley Carter.

Carter said the governor’s school was the 24th seeded team and was chosen by the fifth-seeded team to be on its alliance. The alliance included teams from the governor’s school, Henrico County and Raleigh, N.C., the release said.

The competition “was not just the game,” Duff said. It also involved building social alliances and convincing the top-seeded teams to let you be in their alliance, Duff added.

Team member Daniel Locklear said he experienced “the most adrenaline I’ve ever felt” during the competition.

When the team found out that its alliance had won, “it was the coolest feeling ever,” Carter said, adding that both girls and boys on the team cried with joy.

“I don’t think I’ve ever screamed that hard,” said member Abbey McGuire.

The local team did a great deal of preparation for the Richmond competition, including building the robot six weeks before the trip. Once the robot was built, it had to be sealed and not touched until it was unloaded in Richmond, Pace said.

Now, the robot has been sealed again and cannot be touched until the team arrives in St. Louis, he added.

Building the robot “is intense ... and we each have our own tasks to get everything done,” said team member Bobby Griffith.

In addition to building and operating robots, the students learn math skills through the competition, Griffith said, adding that the students calculated the velocity of the basketballs as they went into the hoop.

The students also learn how to problem solve when the robot isn’t working properly, Pace said.

In St. Louis, the competition will be designed the same as in Richmond, but it will involve more than 400 teams that will form new alliances, Pace added.

The local team is known as the STAGS, which stands for Science, Technology And Gifted Students, according to Pace.

The team also earned two other honors in Richmond. It was awarded the Imagery Award, which celebrates attractiveness in engineering and outstanding visual aesthetic integration from the machine to the team appearance; and the Quality Award, which celebrates machine robustness in concept and fabrication, according to Pace.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international organization whose mission is to transform modern culture by celebrating science and technology and encouraging more students to be interested in pursuing education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the release said.

Other members of the governor’s school team are Ashley Hubbard, Brandon Martin, Vanessa Sanchez, Ashley Bradley, Jerry Joyce, William Hatchett, Jamil Stafford, Daisy Becerra and Stephani Davis.

In addition to Brian Pace, adult mentors who traveled with the team to Richmond were Melissa Pace, Ralph Miller, Pam Miller, Robert Hatchett, Nathan Knott, David Davis, Jaime Li, Adam Pace and Brandon Hairston.


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