By Rebecca Herman

On Saturday, February 18 Johnson County Middle School hosted the JOCO VEX “Winter Wonderland” State Qualifier, which was sponsored by TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority. Sixteen teams from eight schools came to compete with the hopes of qualifying for the state Robotics competition. Middle and high school teams came from across the state, with Memphis traveling the longest distance.
The schools who competed were: Johnson County Middle School and Johnson County High School, Mountain City, TN; Brentwood Academy, Brentwood, TN; Sullivan North High School, Kingsport, TN; Happy Valley Middle School, Elizabethton, TN; Holston and Innovation Academy Middle School, Blountville, TN; Jefferson County High School, Dandridge, TN; and St. George’s Independent School, Collierville, TN.
The competition was well received by everyone in attendance. For many parents, this was the first time seeing their child competing because the competitions are usually held in middle and west Tennessee. This event is a first for Johnson County and will “be a yearly state qualifier event,” according to JCMS team sponsor and teacher, Susan Quave. So far, this is the first state qualifier for East Tennessee.
Teams have multiple opportunities to gain points: skills notebook, robot skills challenge, and programming skills challenge. Rich Miller, state judge, spoke to the group of students before the competition began and expressed his excitement that, “every team today completed the skills notebook!” Miller explained that completing these notebooks will help students learn the skills necessary for any career in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field.
The students began the day with qualifying matches where teams compete against one another. Each event began with the programming skills challenge, where each team pre-programs their robot to run the course in order to gain as many points as possible in 15 seconds. From there the robots began the next challenge where the team members use remotes to move their robots to gain points in order to clear their assigned space. The space is filled with two “bags” and multiple “stars.” Depending on where the items were moved determined the number of points each team received. The goal was to move as many “bags” and “stars” into your opponents’ space before time was called.
The alliances were picked and the elimination matches began after lunch.  These newly formed teams then competed against other alliances. Brentwood Academy received the Excellence Award, which qualified them for State and Regional Championship and CREATE U.S. Open; Tournament Champions were Brentwood Academy and Johnson County High School, which qualified them for State and Regional Championship and CREATE U.S. Open; the Build Award went to Jefferson County High School; the Design Award went to St. George’s Independent School; Judge’s Award went to Brentwood Academy; Robot Skills Award, which qualifies for CREATE U.S. Open, went to Brentwood Academy; and the Sportsmanship Award, which was chosen by the students, went to Johnson County Middle School.
After this event, JCMS and JCHS, have three out of their four teams that have qualified for the State Championship, which will take place on March 4 in Brentwood, TN.  Schools that place at the State level will then compete at the World Championship, which this year takes place in Louisville, Kentucky.