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Underdog team 'wows' at robotic competition
MISSISSIPPI STATE – With all the stress and excitement of an Olympic sport, a team of north Mississippi 4-H youths pulled off an amazing, come-from-behind victory to qualify for a regional robotic competition this spring.
Mariah Smith Morgan, an assistant professor in the Mississippi State University Extension Service Center for Technology Outreach, said the eight-member team and their coach attended the 4-H Robotics Academy last August.
Team participants from DeSoto and Tate counties include Nathan Rodgers, Jon Rodgers, Cade Holliday, Chandler Holliday, Paige Gautier, Jill Gautier, Skyler Smith and Will Gaines, along with coach Rena Smith and mentors Ricky Wilson, Tommie Rodgers and Adelia Gaines.
The team did not have an operating robot until the night before the north Mississippi qualifier, where they received the Motivate Award for team spirit and team cooperation. After being chosen as an ally by another team, they earned a winning alliance recognition and later received a special invitation to the state championship.
There were 22 teams that advanced from qualifying tournaments around the state to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge Mississippi State Championship Feb. 7-8 in Oxford. FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” provides a sport for the mind.
The team won the Inspire Award, the top award, which is given to the team that is considered to be the best role model for other FTC teams, and they were also a part of the Winning Alliance. The 4-H robotics team earned one of four spots to compete in the FTC South Super-Regionals in San Antonio later in the month.
Team member Nathan Rodgers, 15, said the team worked hard together to become stronger for the state competition. Their efforts continue as they approach the South Super-Regionals.
“We are tweaking the robot right up until we go into the arena for competition,” he said. “Before the state competition, we not only improved the robot -- making it lighter and stronger -- but we also grew as a team by working on our team presentation and community outreach.”
Tommie Rodgers said her sons’ team enjoyed sharing about their robots at the local library and with other children’s groups.
“This project is about much more than building a robot,” she said. “The team members developed leadership and communication skills. They learned about teamwork. It required business skills and other life skills, too.”
Coach Rena Smith said she never dreamed the team could be in position to compete regionally so soon.
“The name our team chose when it first formed has been very appropriate: ‘Challenge Accepted.’ The name reminds us daily that we have challenges to overcome and that we are determined to persevere,” Smith said. “As a first-year team, everything has been new. There’s always something new to do or figure out; some new problem to solve or challenge to overcome.”
Smith said the young team’s primary goal originally was just to build a robot that functioned.
“We never contemplated qualifying to go to the state championship, much less regionals. Those dreams were for the big boys, the pros,” she said. “We just plodded along figuring things out as we went along -- the first thing, the second thing, the next thing, and trying to find money for the parts we had to have.”
For more information on the 4-H robotics program, contact the local Extension office.