Local students tackle VEX robotics challenge 

The mother of an 11-year-old girl approached the coach of one of the high-performing middle school
robotics teams to let him know her daughter was looking forward to joining the team.

She also threw in this aside: She and her husband had made sure the house they bought was in the
district that would allow their daughter to go to that specific middle school. Their daughter, she said,
had ambitions to pursue a career in advanced technology.

Moving to a specific school district is not all that unusual when it comes to sports or even perhaps
educational excellence in general. But to join a robotics team?

A future filled with artificial intelligence and autonomous systems careers isn’t, it seems, some far-off,
developing notion. It is upon us.

That was reflected not only by the mother’s interaction with the coach but also by the robotics
scrimmage she and her daughter attended April 15 at Huntington North High School.

I had the privilege of emceeing the event, which brought together 28 elementary and eight middle
school robotics teams. Several hundred parents, relatives and friends filled the gymnasium bleachers to
cheer on the competitors.

Robots in all shapes and sizes – some of them quite elaborate – were designed, built and operated by
students in a Vex IQ Slapshot challenge. The student-directed robots performed a series of maneuvers
to gather orange discs from dispensers and push or shoot them under a low-hanging barrier into goal

The young competitors took the challenge seriously and rarely lost focus – for six hours. They marched
through 108 matches on a gym floor usually reserved for rebounds and layups not gathering discs and
propelling them.

The students’ enthusiasm underscored the importance of hands-on learning and fascination with 21 st
century technology. It also drove home the idea that a young person is best served if their parents – like
those of the 11-year-old girl – encourage a student’s interests and not necessarily the interests of the

Watch the video below to see the competition.