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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Local robotics teams qualify for state championship

By Dorothy Firsching

Two robotics teams from GW Community School, a very small high school in Springfield, competed in the VirginiaFIRST FTC Southwestern Virginia Qualifying Tournament at Southwest Virginia Community College in Cedar Bluff Dec. 3—and made it to the state championship.

FIRST sponsors robotics leagues and competitions, from junior Lego Leagues through high school robotics. The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) runs more than 100 qualifying and championship tournaments each year, involving more than 21,000 high school students.

Its mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

GW Community School (GWCS) offers robotics classes, sponsors an after-school robotics club open to students from other area schools, and runs a summer robotics program. Its teams have done exceptionally well in past years, reaching the World Championship level in 2009 and excelling at the regional level last year. [GWCS has just 50 students in grades 9-12.]

The two GWCS  teams undertook the six-hour drive to the far end of the state in order to test their robots relatively early in the season. While other Fairfax County schools have robotics teams that participate in FIRST events, GWCS was the only school from Northern Virginia at the Cedar Bluff competition.

The matches proved exciting, and the friendly and polite southern ambiance led to lots of sharing. But all did not go as planned. GWCS’s Team 965, the “Redstone Rangers,” had a great robot and great programming but faced technical challenges in maintaining communication. However, team member Bobby Sunderland was able to get his robot to maneuver a six-pound bowling ball up a ramp onto the goal to score. In the photo above, a referee confirms their goal.

Team 3749, “Sam and Those Stupid Kids,” had early success in picking up a crate and holding it high for a 42-point score for one crate, but found that their scissor-lift was not quite robust enough. That team, in the photo on the right, formed an alliance with the eventual winners, a team from West Virginia called “Geeks in Just Their Underpants” (in red long johns).

Despite the long trip, the teams had a great time and look forward to not only returning to Cedar Bluff next year, but to doing even better during the upcoming tournaments, including events at Northern Virginia Community College in January, Charlottesville in February, and a regional event in New Jersey.

Due to this early qualifier, both GWCS teams will be headed to the State Championship March 2-3 in Richmond. Go Coyotes!

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