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Vermillion Area Robotics Club on the way to World Competition, Sweeps SD State VEX Robotics Championship
February 28, 2018
Vermillion, SD – 28 February 2018
Vermillion’s Elementary, Middle, and High School robotics teams swept the Teamwork, Excellence, and Skills Awards at last weekend’s SD VEX Robotics Championship in Harrisburg, sending each team with an invitation to compete in the World VEX IQ Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, in late April. The teams are members of the Vermillion Area Robotics Club, a community resource that encourages children to learn and grow in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
“The kids put a ton of work in over the past several months to prepare for State,” said VARC coach Susan Rolfes, “and the work paid off. We’ve emphasized making improvements to robot design, presentation skills, and driving to ensure that each of these teams’ good seasons could continue beyond the state meet. Some teams even built more than one robot this season to better align with game strategies that evolved over the past 8 months. And each of the teams delivered in design, driving, teamwork, and presentation skills. It was nerve-wracking, exciting, and a great end to this part of our robotics season.”
VARC’s season has been a lesson in discipline, national- and world-leading performance, and strong tournament outcomes. Since November, VARC teams have taken tournament championships in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, competing against teams from around the region and country. VARC’s high school metals team, 1008M, remains one of the highest scoring robotics teams in the world and VARC’s middle school metals team, 1008X is currently ranked 10th in the world in robot skills (driver and programming). VARC’s elementary and middle school plastic robotics teams – 1008B and 1008C – are also ranked in the top 6% of teams competing in the world and the teams are the top two VEX IQ teams in the state. A third VEX IQ team, 1008E, just started this year, has also been a high performer and is ranked fourth in the state overall in robot skills.
“The building and programming of robots becomes an obsession: every tournament is a lesson in how to grow and improve. It means long weekend days spent experimenting and late nights building, changing, programming, and doing it all over again. The result of that is great outcomes for these teams and good lessons learned when things don’t go as planned,” notes Rolfes.
The VARC teams will next compete at the REC Create US Open Tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in early April. Teams from around the United States and guests from China will join together to compete for the US championships in both metals and plastics VEX robotics. Last year, Vermillion’s Elementary and Middle School VEX IQ teams each finished 3rd overall at the US Open in their respective divisions and received the Sportsmanship and STEM Research Awards while the high school metals team made it all the way to the national semifinals. Expectations for this year’s US Open are equally high.
“Last year, our kids had a close brush with winning championships in both of our disciplines – metals and plastics – and this year, we feel like all of our teams could be competitive for major awards at the tournament,” Rolfes said. “The teams will be working hard in the coming weeks to ensure that they’re prepared in all facets of their robot design, programming, driving, and presentations so that the Vermillion community is well-represented at the US Open.”
VARC relies on parents, volunteers, and a DIY approach to preparing, competing, and supporting robotics in the community, says Rolfes.
“We are self-supporting and our work happens in basements, garages, and storefronts around the community. We have a great partnership with the Vermillion Public Schools Foundation and rely on donations from the Vermillion community to keep our program going. It’s telling that our program – which not only grows robotics in community but does outreach to other communities –helped produced another world qualifier from Brandon, SD, through our VEX camp this year. Our program encourages the growth of STEM education for children, regardless of where they’re located or their ability to pay and we serve hundreds of kids in the greater Vermillion community by bringing robotics education and outreach through the library, camps, and competitive robotics.”
This year, VARC hosted its first tournament in Vermillion at the Coyote Sports Center. USD, the Department of Athletics, Masaba, and the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company were major supporters of the event, which brought over 100 children and families to Vermillion for a day of competitive robotics. VARC hopes it’s the first of several annual tournaments in Vermillion that increases the visibility of Vermillion as a supporter and amplifier of STEM education.
Community members interested in VARC or supporting it can learn more by visiting the VARC’s website at http://www.vermillionarearoboticsclub.org or contact club leaders Susan Rolfes, Kurt Hackemer, or Bill Anderson for more information.
“Our success at the US Open, Worlds, and ongoing sustainability relies on community recognition and support,” notes club leader Kurt Hackemer. “We are excited to share VARC’s successes and work with anyone interested in learning more, being community or corporate partners, or individually supporting VARC’s infrastructure, competitions, and education efforts.”