From Commercial Appeal
By Linda A. Moore
Posted: Jan. 16, 2016
Inside the varsity gym at Collierville High School Saturday, balls flew through the air, teammates cheered each other’s success, referees in striped shirts made sure everyone observed the rules and adversaries shook hands in congratulations on a game well-played.
But nobody was aiming for the high hoops.
It was the first Dragon Invitational VEX Robotics Competition.
“We have a lot of rookie teams here from Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas,” said Shelli Brasher, STEM (science technology, engineering and math) teacher at Collierville High.
More than 100 students made up 22 teams from 10 middle and high schools. They competed in competition in which robots shot balls into nets about four feet high, while other robots moved balls around for points.
“Part of the strategy is learning to work with the other robot to maximize the points,” Brasher said.
Drew Central High School in Monticello, Arkansas, was among those competing.
“The learning that takes place is out of this world — problem-solving, logistics. It’s amazing,” said Barbie Eubanks, a former science teacher-turned-librarian and robotics team coach.
The robots are made of metal with gears, rollers, rubber bands and wheels. Some are directed through remote control and others have been programmed by the students.
The competitors battled in “Nothing But Net,” with points earned by robots that push balls under a low goal or shoot balls into a high goal.
Throughout the day, teams were eliminated until those who advanced to the championship round created “alliances” with other teams and skillfully selected partners that would enhance the abilities of their own team.
For example, said Nicholas Perkins, 16, a junior at Southaven High School and a member of the DeSoto County Career Tech West team, his team formed an alliance with the Jackson (Tennessee) Area Robotics team, whose robot rose more than 12 inches, gaining extra points.
“You get to learn what other people can do with their robots,” he said. “And if you’re lucky, you get a plaque.”
By the end of the day, the final bracket pitted the Red Alliance — formed by teams from Brentwood Academy from Brentwood, Tennessee, and Collierville High — against the Blue Alliance, with teams from Drew Central; its neighbor, Monticello Occupational Education Cooperative, and Memphis Collegiate School.
In the best-two-out-of-three round, the robot from Brentwood quickly gobbled up balls and tossed them into the net, while Drew Central’s team fed balls to a robot that flung them with impressive accuracy.
But in the end, the Red Alliance won the day.
“I’m extremely proud of them and that they were able to do it all with their hometown team,” said Kelly Griffin, engineering teacher at Monticello Occupational.
Hank Roberson, 13, an eighth-grader at Brentwood, was thrilled with his team’s win.
“We’ve had to redo our robot three times, so this feels like the final one,” he said. “It feels like my baby.”