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Robots take over school as Idaho students compete in state championship

Posted at 4:23 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 19:39:53-05

NAMPA, Idaho — A Nampa school was overrun with robots Friday as Idaho students competed in the first Idaho Middle School Robotics Championship.

In years past, middle and high school students competed in the same robotics competition. But East Valley Middle School teacher Jesus Gomezsaid the program grew too large, and the state decided to divide the competitors by grade level.

On Friday, 15 teams of 60 students participated in the State Middle School Robotics Championship at East Valley Middle School. Gomez said the robotics program started at East Valley about 14 years ago and is increasingly popular.

"It exploded once the kids saw how they could make robots and build robots," he said. "The industry today, whether its amazon or local partners, they're using robots all the time, and the kids just totally get excited and love it every day."

Sparks were flying, and nerves were on a high inside the school cafeteria, as winners would earn the chance to compete at the VEX Robotics World Championship in May. Gomez said Idaho's students would go up against teams from 2,500 schools worldwide.

Related: Idaho team makes it to semi-finals in First Robotics competition

Eighth grade student Alli Simpson has competed in five competitions but never won. On Friday, she said she was hopeful her team would take home the championship.

"I like doing things that are hands-on and competing with other people," Simpson said. "I want to win."

Idaho's students had to place first in either an award or the whole tournament to win.

Awards are based on the robot's skills, competition and excellence based on performance, engineering, and design.

"They have an arena they have to perform in, and in that arena, they have to complete certain tasks," Gomez said. "They have to move goals, rings, and put things in certain spots of the arena to score points."

Related: High schoolers compete at FIRST Idaho regional robotics competition

Simpson's team, nicknamed The Guardians, built a robot with two lifts — meant to carry two goals and push another during the skills test.

"I like building relationships and competing with other schools while getting to meet new people," she said. "It's something different that not many people get to do, so it's a fun opportunity."

Eighth grade student Landon Hammer has been enrolled in the robotics program for nearly two years. He was excited to show off his team's robot, Shelby.

"I picked the name. I named it Shelby," he said. "I just loved that name so much."

Hammer said Shelby has both a back and front lift attachment that allows it to lift goals but keeps the machine stable. After working on the robot for weeks, Hammer was excited to bring home the championship title through the skills competition.

"I'm a skills driver, and I've gotten 260 points, which is the best that I've done," he said. "And that's a really high score."

Landon Hammer, center, collaborates with a team mate during the skills competition on Friday.

Related: State Board devotes $26 million to student data collection, after-school programs

Since joining robotics, Hammer thinks he wants to pursue engineering and coding as an adult. Gomez said all robots are made during class through provided materials, but students design and build their machines is entirely independent.

"We study mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering," he said. "Robotics was just one part of the engineering program that we wanted to use...once they started competing, they get so excited, and they can't stop."