Robotics competition rocks LHHS

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By Dana Delgado

It is not what a newcomer to the event would expect at a robotics competition but the contests are rapidly becoming a hotbed for rabid supporters and a welcome challenge of creative and scientific genius to surging competitive school teams across the country.

Recently, Liberty Hill High School hosted the region’s largest robotics competition with hundreds of participants competing from over 26 schools of various sizes including private schools.

A host of wildly enthusiastic fans rocked the gym and the cafeteria as the teams competed Oct. 20 for the opportunity to advance to the state UIL event or the Texas BEST meet at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Capitol BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology), a non-profit organization that organizes a yearly engineering contest in conjunction with UIL, coordinated the event at LHHS. Capitol BEST, which serves Travis and the surrounding counties, is one of over 50 hubs throughout Texas and the U.S.

“It was a very successful event,” said Daniel Paschal, LHHS Engineering Instructor who assisted with the planning and staging of the event and mentors the Liberty Hill team. “The kids were really excited. We’ve been preparing every night from 4-6 p.m. for six weeks. The kickoff was in September, which was the beginning of the contest season.”

The team from Liberty Hill struggled in the fierce competition with its various projects and did not place after faring well two years ago and advancing to the semi-finals last year despite having the robot’s arm malfunction.

“We were disappointed that we did not place,” said Paschal, who previously spent 17 years in Pflugerville and is well versed in the competition. “This year’s contest was extremely difficult. We weren’t as prepared as we needed to be and there was a higher level of competition. There is a lot to be learned and we’re still learning. The ultimate goal is to work together as a team.”

Members of the LHHS team included Makenzie Webb, Jonah Bogart, Ellie Evans, Monse Dohogne, Noah Kelley, Kristen Holladay, Asas Husain, Logan Ortiz, and Tucker Stephenson. Also on the team were Hannah Boyd, Cheryl Gauthier, Josh Palmer, Justin England, Sutton Landers, Shanti Ramsingh, Dalton Hudson, Dakota Stauffer, Athena Brown, and Nolan Tolley-Enstrom. The members shared a variety of duties during the competition.

Advancing in the UIL large school division were Hutto High School, Pflugerville High School, Round Rock High School, and Hays High School. Gateway College Prep and Wimberley High School qualified in the UIL small school division. One Day Academy advanced in the non-UIL (head-to-head competition) division.

“These are real-world experiences,” said Paschal. “It’s far more than textbook knowledge. In the classroom, I try to give students basic skills and the opportunities to apply those skills. The contest is designed to simulate a real-world engineering and business environment.”

Competing teams were judged in a variety of criteria including an engineering notebook, a marketing presentation, team exhibit and interviews, spirit and sportsmanship and robot performance. The robot head-to-head competition, the featured event, captivated the audience throughout the contest day. The students put to the test their project, which by rule they had six weeks to plan and construct from a set of prescribed materials provided. Their project also had to meet a weight requirement.

Attached to an elevated horizontal wooden rail, the robot, through its extended arm, had to collect objects in a timed challenge alongside other robots that could deter them from the process of grasping objects from a set container. The objects, simulating a real-world challenge representing debris in the ocean, were the means by which teams were awarded points.

In between contests, competitors feverishly worked on performing maintenance in the Pit Area located in the school cafeteria. It was a mass of humanity trying to tweak their individual robots. The competition included four phases including a seeding phase, a wildcard phase, a semi-final phase and a finals phase. Each team had a minimum of 5-6 head-to-head matches.

The competition is designed to inspire students towards further studies in the fields of science and engineering while introducing engineering and scientific methods. Students are required to do all the work themselves with the guidance of a mentor or teacher. The competition is open to all middle and high school students but schools are asked to only enter one team to foster community building.

Kristy Kercheville, LHHS Career and Technology Education director, praised the team, parents, Paschal, and the Art Club for their participation and assistance with the event.

“There was a lot of planning and extra hours to host this event for teams from all over the state with hundreds of participants to compete and fans that supported their teams,” said Kercheville.   

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