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Organized chaos at the robotics tourney

Published 9:35pm Monday, February 4, 2013

I don’t know quite what I was expecting when I showed up at Norfolk State University to cover my first robotics tournament Saturday, but it wasn’t what I found.

FIRST Tech Robotics teams from around the region were gathered for the regional qualifying tournament. Describing the scene in the gymnasium at the university’s physical education building as “organized chaos” would be kind. It pretty much looked like chaotic chaos to the untrained eye.

But as I wandered around to get my bearings, I realized there really was a complex system at work. The bleachers — the only part of the gym not in a state of anarchy — were full of parents and family members calmly watching the tournament. But the rest of the gym almost made me lose hope of covering the tournament successfully.

Some teams were competing in the center of the gym, while others worked on their robots at the back of the gym. Few of the teams were identified by their school name on their uniforms or at their table, making my search for the team from King’s Fork High School difficult.

I finally found the information booth, where I learned the King’s Fork team was No. 6270. I found the table with that number listed, but they were gone. Their table neighbors told me they were about to compete in their second of five contests that day.

I rushed to the “playing field” just in time to see a robot labeled with number 6270 being whisked away from an inspection table and carried onto the field, but it was such a fleeting glimpse that I couldn’t see who was carrying it. Once it was on the floor, it was impossible to tell which of the four teams was controlling it.

Undaunted, I simply observed the competition and shot photos of every team competing. Once it was over, I headed back to King’s Fork’s table and determined the team I followed there was the one I was seeking.

The teens were still caught up in the fluster of winning the match despite losing a wheel, thanks to the fine ring-hanging work of the robot they were paired with. The robots’ puppeteers were awarded points based on how many rings they were able to hang on a rack made of PVC pipes.

I was impressed by the maturity and ingenuity of the six teens on the team, which included Lindsay Carlesi, Atiena Branch, Katrina Shaw, Kenny Nguyen, Nicoles Williams and Bryan Clark.

Although they didn’t place high enough among more than two dozen teams at the tournament to advance to the state finals, they still plan to continue making robots and having fun. And that — along with math, science, technology, teamwork, creativity, sportsmanship and all the other skills that come with making robots — is the most important part.

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