HANCOCK COUNTY — Twenty robotics teams from seven Hancock County schools are gearing up for the third annual Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship, to be held Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
The competition will be the largest state robotics championship in the country, gathering over 385 teams from elementary, middle and high schools across the state, according to event host TechPoint Foundation For Youth.
Top finishers will advance to compete in the world robotics championship in Louisville, Kentucky, next month. In competition, teams maneuver their hand-built robots via remote control over a room-size field, using the machines to pick up items and move them to designated areas.
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“Hancock County is really well represented in the state championships,” said Aaron Amos, who coaches the robotics teams at Eastern Hancock High School. “If you consider all the schools in the county that are going, we’re a good chunk of what’s being represented at the state level.”
This is the first year Eastern Hancock has had a team qualify to go to state.
“The students are obviously very excited,” said Amos, who teaches physics and computer science at the school.
“The school’s robotics program was started a few years ago, and it’s kind of exploded. This year for the first time we’ve had more than one team,” he said.
Of the school’s three teams, the one going to state includes seniors Sam Blocher, Matthew Carter, Garret Henderson and Ashton Trueblood.
Amos said the community has been supportive of the group, which was recognized at the homecoming pep rally last week. “The school recognizes that this is a big accomplishment for a small school like ours,” he said.
While qualifying for state is impressive enough, Amos said the best part is they did so with only $1,500 of funding, “which is practically unheard of,” he said.
The team couldn’t afford to build its own practice field as many other schools have, so the only time they could really practice was during tournament play.
“They’ve worked really hard and managed to put together a great effort at our little school,” Amos said.
This year marks the third consecutive year a team from Geist Montessori Academy in McCordsville will go to the state championships.
The nine-member team includes four returning members who made it to the world robotics competition last year, including seventh-graders Caleigh Johnson and Ellen Lovold and eighth-graders Molly Kwok and Eliza Sweeny.
New team members include fifth-graders Bentley Elsts and Joy Sweeny, sixth-grader Devon Jones and seventh-graders Cameron Archie and Chloe Jones.
“The entire team is looking forward to our big adventure at the state competition,” said Eliza, who is the team captain.
The team qualified after winning both an Excellence Award and the Skills Driving category earlier this month at a tourney in Indianapolis, where they placed second overall.
“The Excellence Award is given to a team who was close to winning in several categories and demonstrated overall teamwork, cooperation with other teams, and a quality design notebook. This is what earned them a spot in the state competition,” club adviser Kathy McGuinn said.
A dozen teams from the Southern Hancock schools district are going to state, including six elementary, one middle school, two junior high and three high school teams.
It marks another strong year in robotics for the school system.
“At the junior high, we’ve gone to state the past six consecutive years and to worlds the past two consecutive years,” said junior high club adviser Curt Powers.
“We have a lot of students who participate and work hard at it, and they do an amazing job. We seem to be competitive in every tournament we’re in,” he said.
Powers credits the corporation’s success in robotics to the fact it’s introduced as early as the third grade. “The elementary school does a great job of introducing robotics to the students at a young age, which allows them to already have a strong background going into middle school and junior high,” he said.
This is the ninth consecutive year Greenfield-Central High School has sent at least one team to the state VEX Robotics competition, having done so every year since the first was held in 2012.
This year it’s sending three of its seven teams to the competition, including one that is ranked sixth in the state.
That team, consisting of Claire Bishop, Owen Bishop, John Hill, Adam Hughes and Caleb Stoefler, is also 41st in the world rankings.
Greenfield’s robotics club co-adviser, Julie Stoeffler, said Indiana’s VEX Robotics community is a tight-knit group.
“These kids have all worked together for many years and often scrimmage together. Having many teams at state from our school is very exciting, but equally exciting is the number of Hancock County teams that will be there,” she said.
“These kids are amazing, and we are very proud of all their hard work and efforts.”
According to the TechPoint Foundation For Youth, which sponsors the state championships, robotics teams help reinforce STEM skills — science, technology, engineering and math — which educators say are crucial for jobs of the future.
In 2016, the foundation launched the State Robotics Initiative to provide hands-on, STEM learning experiences to Indiana students through an economical, entry-level robotics program. The initiative was designed as a statewide expansion of the city of Indianapolis’ VEX Robotics grant program.
In four years, the foundation said, it has grown the number of state schools with robotics programs by 430 percent, with more kids in Indiana involved with robotics than in any other state.
“The students of these robotics teams will become the leaders of tomorrow. By helping provide a pathway from elementary to middle school and now high school, we are able to nurture the passion the students have for STEM,” said George Giltner, the foundation’s vice president of STEM education.
“With the end goal of a robotics team in every school, the Indiana workforce of the future is looking bright.”
TechPoint Foundation For Youth play host the third annual Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The competition will be the largest such competition in the country, with over 385 teams represented, including 20 from Hancock County.
The event is free and open to the public.
For information, visit techpointyouth.org/statechamp.
Hancock County teams participating:
-Greenfield-Central High School – 3 teams
-Geist Montessori Academy – 1 team
-Montessori Science Academy – 2 teams
-New Palestine Junior High – 2 teams
-New Palestine Intermediate – 7 teams
-New Palestine High School – 3 teams
-Sugar Creek Elementary – 2 teams