VEX Students Qualify for World Championship

Rosemary Gregg, Writer

Engineering students have spent the year preparing an efficient robot that can stack cones for this year’s VEX World Championship, April 25-29 in Louisville, Kentucky. This will be the sixth year that Bryant has gone to the tournament. Only four students qualified for the tournament, while five were selected by VEX tournament substitute coach Joanna Ritchie.

In order to qualify, each team had to win a local tournament or get an excellence or skills award to be invited to the state tournament. Only three teams qualified for state, and only one team won state this year, allowing them to qualify for Worlds.

Engineering teacher John Williams left after the first semester, and Bryant has had a difficult time finding a qualified permanent teacher, so Engineering students have had various substitutes throughout the second semester. However, starting next school year, current Biology and Chemistry teacher Dexter Barksdale will lead the Engineering program, with help from Ritchie.

“I hope that the students work really hard and try their best,” Ritchie said. “Last year, we made it to semifinals, [and] that was a big deal, so this year I hope we make it to semifinals and even farther.”

Students have organized a Go Fund Me, a movie night for young kids and a bake sale to raise money for Worlds. However, each student engineer will still have to pay for some of the trip.

“Next year, we’re going to fundraise all year long so that it’s not so stressful at the end of the year,” Ritchie said.

Freshman Intro. to Engineering student Haley Maxwell was one of the five students selected by Ritchie. This will be Maxwell’s first year going to Worlds.

“Being around people who have been before makes it less overwhelming,” Maxwell said. “They can direct me with everything going on, which is really exciting.”

Maxwell builds and programs robots for her team. Next year, she plans on taking Digital Engineering as well as Competitive Engineering.

“I’ve grown a lot closer to a lot of the guys who are going because they’re part of my team,” Maxwell said. “We’re all one big team.”

Maxwell expects to work with students who do not speak English. Often when working with others who speak a different language, teams opt to draw out what everyone is supposed to do or they use Google Translate.

“I think it’ll be challenging, but having people who are used to it will help a lot,” Maxwell said.

Senior Competitive Robotics student Zack Curry is a VEX builder for this year’s games. According to Curry, VEX is reaching out to kids at younger ages.

“Everybody has been understanding the game more and more because we’re starting at an earlier level,” Curry said. “We’ve gotten the elementary involved with VEX.We’ve introduced it to them earlier to get their mind thinking about it before high school.”

Curry has qualified for Worlds every year since his sophomore year.

“[The tournament] has gotten way bigger,” Curry said. “Right now, they’re running out of space in this building. This year is probably another 200 teams bigger than last year.”

Robotics has taught Curry how to design robots, which he plans to use in his mechanical engineering career path.

“There’s just a whole lot more to get used to, because we do so much and so fast, it’s so complicated compared to a normal class,” Curry said. “For us, it takes probably two to three years to get used to what we’re doing.”

Through robotics, Curry formed a close friendship with senior Dhyan Thacker.

“We have become so close because he’s the driver and he helps me build,” Curry said. “If I hadn’t been into Engineering, I never would’ve met [him].”

Each year, to select the robot driver, everyone competes to see who can do a better job of controlling the robot. Whoever can score the most points in the given time gets to be the driver. This will be Thacker’s fourth year attending. His robot has won state every year, and every year, his team has consisted of mostly the same people.

“The first year [Bryant competed to go to Worlds, they] qualified, and we’ve been qualifying ever since,” Thacker said.

Students have the opportunity to meet students from other VEX teams across the globe. The next year’s game is announced at the end of the World tournament each year, giving each team an entire year to prepare for it.

“You make a lot of new friends and meet a lot of new people who are just like you at Worlds,” Thacker said. “You meet people from other countries. Last year I met some friends from Australia.”

The VEX team has continued to work together and adapt since Williams left.

“Ever since [Williams] left, it’s been a little more difficult, because we have to do things on our own, which puts more pressure on us,” Thacker said. “But we’ve learned time management and we’ve gotten closer as a team, instead of depending on him to tell us what to do. We thought it was going to be way harder than it really was to stay together and finish up the year.”