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Da Buggys drive robots to Champion victory

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Ritchie Garland (center) with the Sunshine Da' Buggys at the left table and the Ellenboro Trash Pandaz at the right. Da Buggys ultimately received the Champion Award. The Trash Pandaz received a second and third place award while Ellenboro's Power Rangers

When approximately 20 robotics teams of students ages 9 to 14 participated in the Carolina Isobots Cargo Connect competition recently, it was serious business for those gathered at East Rutherford High School's gymnasium.

Student teams were from every elementary and middle school in Rutherford County Schools (RCS) District and five teams from Spartanburg County also competed.

At the end of the day it was the Sunshine Elementary School's team Da Buggys that carried home the Champions Award, after a heated overtime -- perhaps a first in area robotics competition.

Coach Emily Fisher, PE teacher at Sunshine, said during the First Lego League Competition, the team competed in four categories; Core Values, Innovation Project, Robot Design and the Robot Run.

"During the Robot Run, we had three runs lasting 2 minutes and 30 seconds each," she began.

Although the first run didn't go as planned, they improved but were still short of what they believed they could achieve, said Fisher.

"Da Buggys were hyped up for the last run and knew that it had to be our best, if we wanted a trophy. The robot drivers came through on the last run and scored 215 points. We tied with another team and were forced into a head to head match. Da Buggys stayed calm under pressure and pulled off a big win in overtime."

"Da Buggys" also received the 1st Place Robotic Performance.

Champion team members were Grace Gur, Triniti Toney, Will Hutchins, Fender Powell, Ridge Warlick and Charlie Leach. Coaches were Fisher and Randey Neyer.

The teams began practicing in August building robots and learned about energy storage, distribution and usage.

Ellenboro Elementary, among the schools fielding two teams, received the Rising Stars award, as they did well in all categories.

The Power Rangers from Ellenboro won the Rising All-Stars Award and the school's other team, Trash Pandaz, won second place for Robot Performance and third place for Project Award.

Teams were asked to design a robot to deliver cargo to different forms of transportation target locations on tables set up in the center of the gym. All teams participated in three rounds of competition and were challenged to complete as many missions as possible with their robot during the 2.5 minute table run.

Barely a word was uttered as the young students hovered around the tables at their respective times and concentrated on driving their team built robot around to various points at the table to transport goods.

Teams were decked out in competitive fashion in T-shirts bearing their names.

Judges and volunteers stood close by watching intently as the students drove their robots to the missions.

The audience got their first look at all the teams when they paraded into the gymnasium. They entered to the roars of grandparents, friends and supporters who gathered in the bleachers to cheer on their favorite robotics team.

After introductions of all teams, the Cargo Connect action began.

Family members were allowed to leave their bleacher seats and gathered around the table to get a better view of the competition as they cheered for their favorite student. Working studiously, the teams were given time warnings as competition drew to a close.

"I am extremely proud of the Carolina Isobots Robotics Program and the success of this year's competition," said Kim Carpenter, chief technology officer for Rutherford County Schools.

"Seeing students' hard work and dedication come to life through their robots is truly inspiring. I believe that by empowering our youth with the skills and knowledge of robotics, we are shaping the future of technology and innovation. I would like to thank the team coaches and everyone involved that helped make this an incredible opportunity for students. Without the commitment of time, talent, and love this program would not be possible," Carpenter said.

"The Carolina Isobots competition offers a unique opportunity for students to engage in hands-on, real-world learning experiences that develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. By investing in this program, the Education Foundation is helping to cultivate the next generation of innovators and leaders who will drive our county forward," said Ritchie Garland, RCS Education Foundation Executive Director.

The program brochure explains as a part of broader efforts to prepare all students for college and career success, RCS works to support and sustain a robotics initiative that provides elementary and middle school students opportunities to build essential knowledge and develop critical life skills.

Establishing FIRST LEGO League teams that include a wide variety of elementary and middle school students is a key feature of the robotics initiative. During the year, teams learn about programming a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS technology, completing complex missions on a challenge mat, and collaborating to research and solve a real world problem related to the challenge.

Local business and community leaders were encouraged to become mentors, working directly with teams to share their experience and expertise and helping to shape hands-on learning experiences to reach students of all ability levels.

Parents served as team volunteers, encouraging and supporting students as they worked through the challenge.

All teams were asked to observe the FIRST LEGO League's Core Values -- celebrating discovery, teamwork and gracious professionalism. Students were responsible for every aspect of their work while cultivating leadership and collaboration skills.

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