Building Blocks: Robotics teams get help in funding world championship trip


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MARTINSVILLE — Two local robotics teams received some help on Wednesday in funding their trip to the world championship.

A representative of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. on Wednesday ceremonially presented checks totaling $15,000 to the Piedmont Governor’s School STAGS, Martinsville High School MADawgs and Halifax County High School Cometbots robotics teams, which will be competing at the FRC (First Robotics Competition) world championship in Detroit later this month.

Lauren Mathena, director of economic development and community engagement for Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC), presented a check for $10,000 to the STAGS and checks for $2,500 each to the MADawgs and the Cometbots teams. She said MBC also is offering to match the fundraising efforts for the MADawgs and the Cometbots teams dollar for dollar up to $2,500 for each team.

“I hope all of you guys do awesome,” Mathena told members of the three teams during the ceremony Wednesday at a lab for New College Institute at 31 Fayette Street.

Robotics activities encourage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and that will help the economy grow, Mathena said.

Depending on where they are geographically located, teams that qualified for the world championship competition will compete either in Detroit (April 25-28) or Houston (April 18-21).

The team qualified with a top-10 finish after FIRST Chesapeake district play and have been named the 2018 MBC Challenge Cup champion. The MBC Challenge Cup is a competition that rewards superior performance for FIRST FRC robotics teams in Southern Virginia. The STAGS finished the highest of the 11 MBC-sponsored FRC robotics teams. In addition to $10,000, the STAGS gain possession of the MBC Challenge Cup trophy for one year.

The Piedmont Governor’s School STAGS are in their 15th season and are based in Martinsville. This season, the STAGS team has 18 student members from Magna Vista, Bassett and Martinsville high schools, and nine adult mentors. Brian Pace — director of Piedmont Governor’s School for Science, Mathematics, and Technology – is the lead mentor of the STAGS.

So far this season, STAGS achievements have included: district finalist (second place) and the Industrial Design Award at the Central Virginia district event; a district winner (first place) and received the Team Spirit Award at the Southwest Virginia district event; and the Imagery Award at the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship event that was held at the University of Maryland.

After the check-presentation ceremony Wednesday, several members of STAGS were asked how they feel about the team’s qualifying for the world championship.

Xavon Stanley said. “I think it shows that we are making progressive moves in encouraging the STEM fields in the Martinsville-Henry County,” said Xavon Stanley.

His teammate Samantha Edwards agreed.

“I’m extremely proud to be a part of this,” Edwards said. “Something that excels as much as this team does, it’s something that I’m not used to. We had creativity… We targeted all aspects of the game instead of just one.”

Alayna Williams said she was really excited and really proud of the team.

“I thought we were going to have to pay a lot of money ourselves or do a lot fund-raising,” Alayna said. Now the STAGS can focus on strategies and working on robotics, she added.

Brian Pace said it’s been a total team effort for the STAGS.

“I’ve always stressed that everybody has a job and everybody has to do their job,” he said.

He added, “You have to know your opponents. We’ve done a lot of scouting.”

Success in the first tournament gave team members a lot of confidence, Pace said.

He said he thinks the STAGS, the MADawgs and Cometbots all can be competitive at the world championship and that it’s a proud time for Southside Virginia to have three teams going to the world championship.

Pace said in addition to the $10,000 from MBC, the STAGS raised about $7,000 through fund-raisers, and Microsoft is providing $5,000 for each of the three teams.

Todd Cassell, head mentor of the Martinsville High School MADawgs, said in an interview: “I’m super excited about the opportunity we’ve been given. This is the first time in MADawgs history, in our nine-year history, we’ve been able to attend a world championship. So we’re super, super excited about going and representing Martinsville, trying to give it our best and try to bring back a world championship. I tell the team every single day, Why not us? Why not us? We can go there and (win) as easily as the other 400 teams competing. Why not the MADawgs from Martinsville? I’m really excited about it.”

Cassell added that the program has nearly doubled since last year, in terms of membership and the number of students.

That’s based not only on the success of the program itself, but what it means to the community and the students,” Cassell said. “It’s a family atmosphere. Students are learning real-world engineering. They can actually apply it in real life and see it. They can build a robot and see it work on a field. That’s huge.”

Students participating in the FRC program are challenged in multiple fields, such as electronics, programming, pneumatics, business/marketing. Each year, a new game is presented to the teams, giving these students the opportunity to create new solutions by becoming better thinkers and problem solvers. Teams have six weeks to design, build, code, and test a robot that executes the task that was presented to them for competition.

MBC has invested more than $350,000 in support of FIRST FRC robotics programs since 2012 to help meet the work-force demands of current and future companies in the Southern Virginia region. If your high school is interested in forming an FRC robotics team, contact Lauren Mathena at lauren.mathena@mbc-va.com or (434) 570-1321.

Paul Collins reports for the Martinsville Bulletin and can be reached at paul.collins@martinsvillebulletin.com.

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