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SMS students dominate robotics competition

Name a competition where one team succeeds by collecting more average points than all of the opposition yet it needs that same opposition’s help to score those points?

I’ve covered a lot of “sporting” events but my first time observing a robotics competition came with a unique gaming strategy.

The second annual Shelbyville Central Schools Robotics Tournament took place Saturday morning at Shelbyville Middle School and was dominated by the middle school robotics squad.

Four of the top five finishers were teams representing SMS.

Thirteen total teams from SMS and the elementary robotics programs from Coulston, Hendricks and Loper took part in the “scrimmage” – the competition was not part of a statewide event, just more of a practice competition.

My first question to one of the event organizers, Luke Lockridge, was, “What is the goal?”

The 4x8 playing field included three green boxes, two red and two blue boxes and a bunch of orange balls. Each box and the balls had assigned point values.

Two teams, consisting of two to three players, took turns driving their unique robot with the goal of stacking the green boxes on green mounted pedestals (20 points each), transporting the red and blue boxes (10 points each) to the opposite end of the playing field, and getting the orange balls inside any box (one point each).

The one-minute playing period with two drivers each taking 30 seconds would end and the total points were accumulated. Each team received those points, no matter which team scored the points in the match.

So being paired with a less experienced team could hurt a strong team’s average score. Simultaneously, a pairing of two of the better teams could benefit both.

Teams were competing with and against each other at the same time – genius!

There were 85 matches Saturday. It took me about 65 to finally realize who was who and what the heck was going on. The giant screen with the running scoreboard helped.

After 12 matches, team 87625C held the lead with an average score of 68.22 points per match. Fellow middle school teams 87625D (67.00) and 87625A (64.78) trailed but only had 11 matches completed – and they were about to go head-to-head on the playing field.

Together, they totaled 81 points with all three green boxes resting on their pedestals, a blue and red box in its appropriate scoring zone and one ball inserted into a box.

That propelled 87625D into the lead at 70.33 points; 87625C (68.22) and 87625A (68.22) were tied.

In the 13th round, 87625C regained the lead and set the standard to beat at 69.5 average points per match.

Team 87625A was paired with a Coulston squad that struggled to score points and the one-minute session ended with 41 points tallied, which would leave the SMS team in third place overall.

Team 87625D had one last chance to steal the win with the help from one of the five Loper entrants. But the two teams didn’t work well together, getting in the way of one another and finishing with just 40 points.

The traveling trophy, won by SMS in the inaugural year, was awarded to Team 87625C – Aiden Alton, Myles Clark and Deuce Blocher, all sixth graders.

The competition goal changes each year with different challenges created. The 2019 challenge included ring stacking, according to Loper robotics leader Andrew Snow.

Teams get a kit of parts – at a cost of $350 per kit – then let their imaginations go wild. While some of the robots looked similar in size and structure, there were those that were “unique.” One looked like a small race car with a snowplow on front. Another resembled a miniaturized five-story building on wheels.

I liked the concept and the boys and girls were quite engaged – which is the whole point. Right?

A competition where teams work together but still compete against one another. I like it.

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