FRA News Details

Robotics Team Wins State Championship

On Saturday afternoon around 5:15 p.m., a roar only a group of Panther fans can produce could be heard throughout the gym at the VEX Robotics State Championship. That's because, for the first time ever, our robotics team, or the RoboPanthers as they like to be called, were crowned State Champions.

Team W, consisting of Campbell Jeffrey, Thomas Hohnholt, Addy Carroll, and Summer Vo, was the last team standing in the 42-team tournament, one that included teams from across the state vying for one of the coveted 11 upper school team spots to advance to the World Championship. 

This is the third year an FRA team has advanced to the World Championship, its first time as a State Champion. 

With four teams total in the State Championship tournament, this is, to date, the most successful robotics season in its four-year existence. In addition to Team W's title run, Team U, which includes Garrison Harold, Christopher May, Olivia Maki, and Georgia Austin, and Team X, consisting of Caleb Huddleston, William Roberts, and Alexandra Halas, partnered and made it to the quarterfinal round.

And, for the first time ever, a middle school team represented FRA in a state match. Team Y, which includes Langston Harold, Ryan Holman, and RJ Harding, were tournament finalists and won the Sportsmanship Award.

"This is a really great moment for our program and our school. This state title showcases the incredible amount of growth and commitment our kids have put in the last several years in our robotics program. It also demonstrates the high value of establishing a student-led campus-wide culture of innovation," said James Weeks, head robotics coach. 

The success of the robotics program can be attributed to hard work put in by our students and faculty who support it, along with the opening of the state-of-the-art Innovation Lab, which opened in 2017. "We are thankful for the Scarlett Family Foundation for its vision of innovation and providing us the Innovation Lab, a space that allows us to teach and learn using the most innovative and state-of-the-art equipment. Because we have an area dedicated to robotics, we now have the space and equipment to really hone those skills and compete with other top teams in the world," said Weeks.

The next step for the RoboPanthers is to prepare for the World Championship, which brings the best teams from 50 countries around the world together to compete for the title of world champion. 

In terms of preparing for the state and world championships, coach Kelly Huddleston said, "This year's challenge was revealed after the World Championship finals last year. The next minute our kids were talking about robot ideas and strategy. We deliberately agreed to close the Lab all summer and to open the second week of school to give them a break, but they are constantly wanting to be in there working to get better."

The robotics team holds practice during lunch and after school due to members' involvement in athletics and clubs. "As we got closer to the state tournament, we kept the Lab open until 6 or 7 p.m. each night, and we still had to kick them out," Huddleston said. "As for actual building and coding – throughout the season, they test hundreds of lines of code, robot parts, spacing, power levels, motor speeds, fly wheel or draw bridge intake systems, to name a few. Not a day goes by where someone isn't tweaking and testing something new. They are in a constant state of iterate-test-feedback-iterate-test-feedback. These kids know how to problem solve with a wisdom and maturity beyond their years."

With the World Championships right around the corner, the RoboPanthers will hit the ground running after Interim and spring break to prepare. Team members Jeffrey, Hohnholt, Carroll, and Vo will begin improving on and testing new components to make their robot the best it can be for the next and final competition. As for the teams that came up just short, they, along with team mentor Spencer Guy, will be experimenting with the new V5 system VEX introduced last year to begin preparation for next year. 

As for what makes the coaches most proud of our robotics team, Huddleston said, "What we love most is how these students work so well together and love and support one another. We are also proud of the integrity with which our team competes."

We look forward to cheering on the RoboPanthers in the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky on April 24 - 27!