Coal Ridge hosts robotics competition in preparation for state | PostIndependent.com
Kara Warby
Contributing Writer

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Coal Ridge hosts robotics competition in preparation for state

Students from schools across the state of Colorado came together at Coal Ridge High School Saturday to compete in the 'For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology' (FIRST) Tech Challenge. Coal Ridge was one of seven schools and nine teams to compete in the state qualifier.

The competition served as an innovative way for the students to connect with peers from across Garfield County as they learned new skills by playing with robots.

"The whole experience is really fun," said Jonathan Belcher, sophomore at West Grand High School. "Being able to build a robot from start to finish is cool."

Students were required to build a robot capable of performing a variety of tasks. Teams were awarded a certain amount of points for each maneuver correctly performed by the robot throughout the "match." Only two randomly selected teams would compete in a match at once.

"There is a lot of trial and error involved," said Megan Degaugh, sophomore at Eagle Ridge Academy and member of Brighton's "Code Crushers" team. "It's a lot of making a plan, executing it and if it fails, just trying again." Each two and a half minute match comprises two periods. The first 30 seconds is known as the "autonomous" period, where the robot is expected to perform pre-programmed actions with no assistance from the team. According to students, this period of each match is the most difficult.

"I wouldn't say it's been easy," said Andrew Wilkinson, junior at West Grand High School. "Our autonomous program pretty much didn't exist before today. We hadn't really fine-tuned it yet, it's been challenging."

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The second period is two minutes long and driver controlled, where students were able to use controllers to maneuver their robots and score points. However, the final score is not the only evaluation.

"You have to do all kinds of things," said Lori Birch, Team Coach for West Grand High School. "[Judges] look at community outreach, documentation of the engineering design process, and a big component of FIRST is gracious professionalism."

Established in 1989, FIRST now has a global outreach of over 460,000 students to date. The Tech Challenge is just one of several programs offered by the organization. Other programs include FIRST Robotics Competition for advanced students, and FIRST Lego League and FIRST Lego League Jr., for younger age groups.

The Tech Challenge not only helps students gain crucial engineering skills and knowledge, but also provides several scholarship opportunities to participating students.

"There are over $14 to $16 million in scholarships available for kids, just for participating," said Kathy Collier, FIRST Tech Challenge Affiliate Partner for Colorado.

While Saturday's matches were just practice, Coal Ridge High School has already qualified for the Feb. 18 state competition, the school's first-year qualifying.

Grand Junction's "Team Air" and Coal Ridge High School won the "red" alliance for Saturday's competition, while West Grand Robotics Team 7224 and Brighton's "Code Crushers came in second place with the "blue alliance". Each alliance was given two teams each.

Students attributed great teamwork and cooperation for their accomplishment.

"You can't get to the place we are without the other team," said Naomi Morales, Grand Junction High School student and member of "Team Air." "Our strengths and our weaknesses balance each other out."

"Communication between teams," said Zachary Barry, Coal Ridge High School student. "We talked about when we were going to set our robots and what we needed to focus on during the match."

West Grand Robotics Team captain Joseph Lengel from the "blue" alliance was impressed with the good sportsmanship between teams, despite the intensity of the competition.

"What really stood out to me was how there was competitiveness between both teams," Lengel said, "but yet there was mutual respect."

For more information on FIRST and their organization, go to: http://www.firstinspires.org.