Robotics teams ready their robots for competition Saturday at JCMS.

By Paula Walter

It was once again competition time for the Johnson County robotics teams. Twenty-five teams from across the state of Tennessee participated in the VEX competition this past Saturday. This year, the competition was held on home turf at Johnson County Middle School.
After opening ceremonies with Tennessee State Representative, Timothy Hill, the competition was underway. VEX competitions have become the largest and the fastest growing competitive robotics program for students across the world, from elementary school to college students. There are over 20,000 teams who come from 45 countries worldwide that participate in more than 1,500 competitions.
Teams of students design and build robots that play against each other in an engineering challenge. Students on robotics team develop lifelong skills that include, among others, teamwork, leadership and communications. Competitions are held year round and are open on local, state and national levels.
The competitions are held on a 12’ by 12’ square field. There are two teams, a red and a blue team, who face off in matches against each other. The competition consists of a 15-second autonomous period where the robots are programmed to participate in the match without human interaction, and then one minutes and 45 seconds driver controlled play. The students program, design and build the robots.
There are 80 cones in the competition field. Winners are determined by the team whose robots stack the most cones on goals, have the highest stacks of cones and also the highest number of parking robots. The object is to earn the highest score.
Not only do teams have to win with the number of points per match, but the students must explain the process for designing, building and programming their robots. In addition, they are responsible for writing the code to run the programs. The students keep an extremely detailed notebook full of pictures, drawings and intricate descriptions of the process they followed for the judges to examine during the competition.
Johnson County has four VEX robotic teams, two from the middle school and two from the high school. The teams are made up of a minimum of three students who each have different duties they are responsible for. Middle school students and high school students compete together. They meet after school in an after school program held in Susan Quave’s classroom in Johnson County Middle School. It’s not uncommon to find students sitting down and writing code in one classroom, and others cheering for their robots in a match off in the classroom next door.
“There are several state qualifying awards that are given out at a tournament,” said Quave.” “The high school team that includes Dalton Sluder, Lauren Paterson, Jackson Mays and Ryan Bilodeau won the prestigious high school excellence award.” According to Quave, the high school team that includes Emily Irizarry, Jonathan Wilcox, Alex Jennings competed in the semifinals.
“Our middle school team 3075A was on the alliance (three teams) that won as tournament champions,” said Quave. “This team also was won the middle school design awards.” Johnson County Middle School team A includes Jackie Jenson, Brandon Sutherland and Dillon Long.
Johnson County Middle School team 3075B includes Wyatt, also known as “Big W” Decker, Damon Thompson and Mcgreger Barnhill, who is the team captain and writes the notebook for Big W’s team. This team also competed in the semifinals. “I got interested when I was in Doe Elementary,” said Decker. “One of my teachers suggested it and I got interested. I’ve started thinking about my future and how good this would look in a resume. I have to keep my grades up as well. I am the main driver and programmer for the team.“ According to Thompson, who is on the same team as Decker, he just started working on the robotic team at the beginning of the school year. “I mostly build and fix. I am the main builder,” said Thompson.
There will be several more tournaments scheduled before the state tournament in March of 2018.
“The teams will compete in January again to seal their spot at the State Championship, which is held March 2-3 in Nashville,” Quave added. The coaches for the Johnson County Robotics high school are Kasi Dishman, Rebecca Byers and Craig Sluder. The middle school coaches are Susan Quave, Dave Quave, Mr. Sentell and Dr. Brenda Eggers.
An endeavor of this size cannot be possible without the assistance of the community and Johnson County Middle School. Quave would like to thank those who have donated generously to the program.