HomeNewsJMCSS, JAR, JSCC host first high school robotics tourney in Madison Co.

JMCSS, JAR, JSCC host first high school robotics tourney in Madison Co.

Typically, the gym on the campus of Jackson State Community College is empty as most students are off campus unless the basketball teams are getting some preseason work in.

But this past Saturday, the gym was one of the busiest places in Jackson.

That’s because JSCC partnered with Jackson-Madison County Schools and Jackson Area Robotics (JAR) to host the third robotics tournament ever hosted in the county. And this one was a high school tournament.

A total of 32 teams were in the building from across the state.

JSCC representative Henry Kilpatrick said that slots filled up so quickly when they opened the registration for the tournament earlier in the year that they were already looking at the possibility of hosting more teams for their second-ever tournament in 2024.

The tournament was called the Hub City Robo Rumble.

In high school robotics events sanctioned by Vex Robotics, not only do teams build and program robots to do compete in their fields to accomplish the objectives to score points – which change each year based on the robotics and fields (areas of competition) that are developed for each season – but the tournament among the top seeds at the end of the day involve a draft element.

Teams work in pairs of teams in each of their matches to score as many points as possible to improve their score throughout the day, and they rotate partnerships through each round of matches.

After the pool play matches are finished, the top-seeded teams pick the teams they want to partner with in the tournament at the end of the day.

Mary Beth Bernheisel, the pastor at First United Methodist of Dyersburg who’s had children compete in robotics the past few years, was the emcee for the tournament and educated newcomers to the event how the playoffs worked, comparing it to the NCAA basketball tournament and March Madness.

Locally, JAR had a few teams competing as did Madison and North Side – two schools who’d never fielded robotics teams before.

Danielle Shaw-Jones is the teacher who’s coordinating the team for North Side. Their practice area is tucked in the back of the building, near the welding and automotive classrooms.

For the past two months, students have worked at learning how to build and code their robots while learning the objective of the game and how to score points, which is to move green triangular plastic blocks either onto or under a net that looks like a miniature soccer net.

“This group of kids is one that has worked so hard at this,” Shaw-Jones said before the tournament. “I’m nervous for them because we’ve never been in a tournament before, so there are so many things that can happen that we’ve never dealt with before.

“But we’re looking forward to being a part and seeing what happens.”

North Side narrowly missed the tournament portion of the competition, but the students were happy with the way they competed.

One local student who was home-schooled and came up through the JAR program was able to parlay his middle school and high school robotics career into a scholarship to Stanford University.

Ben McCarver just finished his sophomore year of college and is taking a year off from school to do coding work for a startup company before he returns to school next year.

He was back home in Jackson this weekend to referee the tournament.

“I actually got started in robotics when Liberty Tech started a program a few years ago,” McCarver said. “The teacher who was coordinating the program, I was familiar with him because I’d been to a couple of events, and I asked him if I could come to some of their practices.

“He welcomed me with open arms and told me to take a few metal pieces and a couple of wheels home and see what I could build with them.”

McCarver took them home and built a basic square that could roll around.

“I brought it back that Thursday, and he said, ‘Did you build that?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’” McCarver said. “He said, ‘Great. Why don’t you bring that to a tournament this Saturday and see how you do with it?’

“So I brought this very basic square as a one-man team and competed with all these robots at Brentwood Academy that looked a lot more complicated and actually did OK considering everything. But I was hooked after that, and I kept coming back and seeing what I could do to make that square bigger and faster and more efficient.”

McCarver won multiple championships and competed in the world competition once while he was in high school. Stanford offered him a scholarship that’s the robotics equivalent to a scholarship in football.

Toyota Boshoku was the title sponsor of the event, and it had representatives there watching the tournament.

“There are opportunities like that throughout the country that our kids and faculty are starting to find out about,” said Molly Plyler, who coordinates STEAM education and computer science for Jackson-Madison County Schools. “So we’re hoping to get more and more students involved, and even if they don’t get scholarships like Ben received, they get training in high school to which they can be accustomed to working with this kind of technology that can be a foundation to working in 21st century factories and industry.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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