Three bright green balls and one orange ball are placed together in 10 spots around a 12-foot-by-12-foot arena.
A 3-foot-tall red net is in one corner, and a blue net is in another corner. In front of each net is a bar 12 inches high.
A team places two robots in a loading zone diagonal from the red net, and another team places its robots in the other corner. Two team members pick up controllers, while others place up to four balls in a robot.
Once the teams are set for a game of Nothing But Net, a person behind a computer screen goes “3, 2, 1,” and the two-minute time clock starts.
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One team might keep its robots in place and either catapult or shoot balls toward the net, while the opposing team uses a grabber to pick up or scoot balls or place balls on the robot to shoot over the bar.
Each green ball is worth one point, and orange balls are worth two points. If a team can put one of its robots on a lift four inches off the ground, it earns 25 points. If it’s lifted 12 inches, that’s 50 points.
When time is up, the robots are turned off, and judges tabulate each team’s score, determining the fate of the best 2-out-of-3 double-elimination tournament.
Trinity Lutheran High School once again was victorious at the end of the Jackson County VEX Robotics Tournament, conducted Thursday night, for the second year in a row at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour.
Trinity beat Crothersville and Brownstown Central in the early rounds, and then Brownstown came back to beat Crothersville twice to reach the championship.
Brownstown edged Trinity 29-27 in the first game of the title match, but Trinity got its shooter and lift going in the next two games and won 90-25 and 71-26.
Seymour also participated in the tournament but was defeated by Crothersville in the fifth and sixth games. Medora had a robotics club for the first time this year, but its members didn’t compete and instead helped with registration, timing and scoring.
“It’s really nice to see everybody work together like that,” said Trinity junior Aaron Bowers, a third-year robotics team member. “People who are different and may not always agree with each other coming together and putting effort and time into one thing and it working is amazing.”
Trinity had an advantage since this was the team’s fifth competition of the year, while it was the first for the other three schools.
The game teams play changes each year, and that either requires making adjustments to robots used the previous year or starting from scratch. Trinity built brand-new robots.
“We’ve had trials and fails all year, so we spent most of this year trying to fix it and get it nice and tidy,” sophomore Matthew Stuckwisch said of one of the robots.
After the team’s third competition, it added the lift to the larger robot. That involves placing the catapult robot on the lift.
“We saw one (school) try to do it, and it didn’t work out, and we’re the first team to do it successfully,” Bowers said.
Stuckwisch said the team used trial and error with math and different techniques of measuring distance to get the balls in the net.
Bowers estimated the team put in about 150 man hours on the bigger robot. The club has met Tuesdays and Thursdays after school.
“It doesn’t matter how much time you spend thinking about the robot and what you need to do. It’s about actually going out and fixing it,” Bowers said.
But still, after all that work, something can malfunction.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is step back and figure out what’s first on the priority list, what do we need to accomplish first, second, third and so on,” Bowers said. “Teamwork is essential.”
Stuckwisch and Bowers both said they were inspired to join the robotics team after watching older brothers find success. Both were happy to have success of their own by winning the county tournament again.
“We have a really good coach (Dallas Goecker), and he suggests strongly to work hard, and it doesn’t matter about winning, it’s just the experience,” Stuckwisch said. “I feel like I’m getting experience that I might not get from another school or just curriculum classes. I get extra knowledge.”
Only three Brownstown team members were available to compete Thursday. Junior Jordan Peters competed for the second straight year, while it was new for sophomore Sydney Weddell and freshman Jared Isaacs.
Peters said he chose to start working on his robot earlier this year. The team’s coach, Jade Peters, bought some new VEX parts over the summer, and they started assembling robots before Christmas break.
Team members paired with a partner to work on the robots to use in the county competition. Jordan Peters’ partner, however, wasn’t able to be at Thursday’s tournament.
“Both of our groups actually came here with the same shooting idea, but my group’s shooting idea actually quit working in the (practice) round, so we had to take that off, and we assembled it in a way so it would just slide off the robot,” he said. “That’s the way we had to play tonight.”
Weddell and Isaacs worked together on their robot.
“If you brainstorm and come up with ideas and some kind of drawing for it, then you’ll be able to know what to do and find the right parts to make it look right and make it look better,” Weddell said. “We’ll come up with ideas, and we’ll try to either fix it or do some changes to it.”
Isaacs said he likes hands-on projects, so joining the robotics team was a perfect fit.
“It’s great to start from nothing and create this and see it work well,” he said. “It’s just great working with other people who can help you if you’re new. It has taught me a lot about teamwork and learning from your mistakes.”
Jordan Peters said programming the robot can take the most time, but it’s a good skill for him to learn since it’s something he may want to continue with in college.
“I just love competition and I love computers, which this has a lot to do with computers,” he said. “It teaches you a whole lot about computers.”
The five Crothersville team members competing Thursday are seventh-graders. This is the first year of robotics for Shea Reynolds and James Douglas.
“I just like to keep myself busy. I’ve never done it before, so it seemed pretty cool,” Shea said of why she joined the team.
“I thought it would be cool because I like building stuff,” James said. “It was kind of difficult at first, but once you get it, you get the hang of it.”
James said some of the team members built the chassis of the robot, while others worked on the conveyor belt and shooter.
Shea and James both said they liked being able to participate in a competition.
“It was nice, and it was pretty fun because you meet new people. I’ve just got an interest for building now that I learned more about it,” Shea said.
“We got farther than I actually thought we would,” James said. “It was just very interesting to see other people make their robots and go against each other, knowing that they had a totally different robot. I liked the challenge of building and the challenge of shooting.”