Evanston teams dominate state robotics meet

Students compete in the state robotics competition, which involves maneuvering robots through a field to flip caps, shoot balls at target flags and climb platforms to earn points. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The Wyoming State VEX Robotics Tournament was held at Evanston High School on Saturday, Feb. 23, when teams from EHS and Davis Middle School claimed top honors and earned an invitation to the world robotics competition held in Louisville, Kentucky, in April. 

The robotics program began in Evanston seven years ago, when Doug Rigby, EHS principal at the time, approached teacher Stewart Parry about launching the program with grant funding from Utah State University. Parry said not only was the Evanston program started at that time, but the robotics program in Wyoming was started through the EHS involvement as well. 

Parry said about 10 teams throughout the state participated that first year, with roughly 16-20 teams participating each year since. The Evanston program, supported by Exxon and 1st Bank, currently has eight robots available for students to build, program and use for competition each year — five for the high school and three for the middle schools. 

Parry and fellow robotics coach Lisa Ovard work with teams of students from EHS and the middle schools throughout the competitive season, which lasts from late September or early October through the state tournament in late February, except for those students who qualify for the world competition. 

A robotics meet features an indoor “field” through which the robots will move, completing tasks to earn points. Teams of two to five students working with one robot are first placed into random computer-generated alliances with another team, with a match consisting of one alliance versus another. 

The alliances are coded as either red or blue. Matches last two minutes with the first 15 seconds being autonomous, meaning the robot moves according to a program created by the students. For the remainder of the two minutes, the robot is controlled directly by the students as competitors battle to flip caps to either red or blue surfaces, launch balls at red and blue targets and climb platforms to earn points. 

Following the qualifying rounds when alliances are randomly generated, competitors are able to choose their alliances based on points earned in the initial rounds. The meet then goes into single-elimination rounds until the final two alliances remain in the championship round. 

While the championship round determines the tournament winners, the determination of who is invited to the world championship is based not only on performance in the state meet but on the detailed notebook teams are required to maintain throughout the entire season, which acts as a blueprint of the steps the team took to create and program the robot, including tweaks and refinements as the season progresses. 

Parry said about 1,000 teams compete in the world championships. Worldwide there are more than 30,000 teams from more than 40 countries that participate in the VEX Robotics Competitions each year. In Wyoming, teams from high school and middle school levels compete at the same events, though at worlds teams also include those from elementary school levels. 

Students from EHS have a history of doing well in the state competitions. Parry said a student who graduated from EHS last year, who had competed in robotics throughout high school, earned a $30,000 college scholarship due to that participation. 

At the state meet, the final round came down to EHS versus EHS, as one Evanston High School team allied with a team from Kemmerer took on a different EHS team in another alliance, with the EHS-Kemmerer alliance winning the tournament.

In addition to the tournament championship honors and the excellence award that determines who is invited to worlds, other awards given include a robot skills award and a design award. Teams from EHS were also recognized with those awards. The overall excellence award is determined by engineers who inspect the design notebook and assess the robot performance. 

The DMS team of Aaron Gillette, Wyatt Sawyer, Kade Sims and Keegan Graham was recognized with the middle school excellence award, while the EHS team of Destiny Buhmann, Mason Jacketta, Carson Gebs, Aspen Griggs and Riley Ovard grabbed the high school excellence award. Both of these teams are now invited to the Louisville VEX World Championship. 

First place in robot skills and the design award for the season’s highest performing team went to the EHS team of Nicky Vetos, Dayton Schneider, Dakota Buhmann, Tommy Farrens and Harrison Tooley.

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