Jonathan Hogge, Dominic Quezada and Lauren Quezada, front row from left, members of Mathews High School’s robotics team, met with adult mentors Ralph DeLucia, Ed Haufler, Dick Crouch, Bill Burry and Bill Higdon last week to begin making plans for the annual regional robotics competition, to be held March 20-22 in Richmond. Photo by Sherry Hamilton
Rocket Sauce, the Mathews High School robotics team, is gearing up for the annual Virginia Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, a contest that begins on Jan. 4 and culminates in March with a three-day expo involving 50 to 60 teams at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
The 12-member team is planning to attend as many preliminary classes as possible to help contestants acquire skills before the competition itself begins. A six-class session will be held this weekend at VCU on topics ranging from computer programming for robots to building drive trains or operating a machine lathe. Bill Higdon, one of the team’s adult advisors, said he expects five or six team members to participate.
Team members are able to focus on areas that interest them, said Higdon. One member might be interested in computer programming, while another might prefer wiring electrical circuits. One young lady enjoys writing and computer graphics, so she writes the team’s newsletter.
“We have kids who have never used hand tools,” he said, “but they have gotten into building all kinds of things.”
The team used to be located at Mathews High School, where the team’s leader, Larry Brown, taught automotive mechanics, but there were always space and time constraints. Since Brown retired, the team has partnered with the Mathews Boys and Girls Club, building a workshop in a loft over the basketball court and using the court itself for test runs of its robot.
In order to participate in the Richmond regional competition, the team needs to raise $6,000 for the entry fee, $5,000 or so for robot parts and supplies, and around $5,000 for transportation, lodging and food.
A glance at the list of teams already registered for the event shows what kind of funding competition Mathews is up against. While the local high school is partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, most of the 55 schools, many from urban areas, have high-powered corporate or educational partners such as BAE Systems, Seacom Inc., NASA, HDT Global Engineering, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and the University of Virginia.