Ask any of the kids who competed in Thursday’s VEX Robotics competition at Manchester High School why they were there and they probably would have told you the same thing: because it was fun, and because it was educational.
“The great thing about the competition is it’s collegiate,” said Chris Prytko, a technology education teacher at MHS who also advises the school’s robotics club, Geared Up. “We’re not out to destroy each other.”
Although the competition held in the cafeteria of Manchester High School may have been subdued, it still very much was a competition, as 20 teams from across New England competed for a birth in the VEC Robotics World Championships in April in Orlando, FL. In addition to MHS’s club, teams from Meriden, West Hartford, New Hampshire, Vermont and the Worcester and Newton areas of Massachusetts also competed.
Teams assemble the robots from a number of prefabricated parts – a completed robot can sometimes cost up to $900 – and then run them through a series of challenges, by remote control, as part of a competition against other robots. The goal is to pick up and deposit as many rings as possible in a certain time period to score points.
Mike Gosselin, a junior at MHS, said he initially joined the club because it was “something to do after school,” but has now developed a passion for assembling the robots He hopes to study mechanical engineering in college and then pursue it as a career. Gosselin said that, along with his teammates, he spent months designing and building his robot for a competition that lasts all of two minutes.
“It can be a bit stressful, but I’d say it’s all worth it,” Gosselin said.
When asked if the actual assembly of the robots, with all its separate gears and moving parts, was a daunting task, Gosselin replied that it was at first, but it was something that he got more comfortable and seasoned at with time.
“At first I didn’t really know what was going on,” he said. “Then I figured out I was pretty decent at it and I got better and better.”
Nate Baranowski, a senior at MHS and a member of the robotics club, said he has made new friends and learned leadership skills from his two years in the group. The Boy Scouts of America Troop 123 in Manchester recently swore in Baranowski as an Eagle Scout.
“You’re working with people your own age and trying to get them to do something they normally wouldn’t do,” Baranowski.
While the three contingents of MHS’ robotics team that participated in the all-day tournament Thursday waited late into the day to see if they had qualified for the world championships, members of the nearby Mansfield Middle School team, nicknamed the Ultimate, already knew they had made the cut.
Doug Perkins, a teacher at the middle school and adviser to the club, said the robotics club is so popular that he typically has more kids who want to participate than he can accommodate.
“It is a lot of work,” Perkins said, adding that members of the club were extremely dedicated. “There are some kids that spend every free moment when they’re not in class working on their robots.”
Sam Huang, a sixth grader at , was a member of the team that qualified for the world championships in Orlando. Huang said he enjoyed building the robots and then being able to compete with them.
“It’s just really fun and you learn a lot of science at the same time,” Huang said.
If there’s one thing that Prytko said he hopes members of the Manchester robotics club gain, aside from practical engineering knowledge, it was to learn to function and cooperate with others as a team.
“I think the kids on our team get an opportunity to, number one, work with students of different abilities,” he said. “I have AP students all the way down to the lowest level and they’re all working together and they come together as a team, which you don’t normally see.”