CAPE ELIZABETH — Students from the middle school and high school qualified to compete in the world championships when the Southern Maine VEX Robotics competition was held for the first time in Cape Elizabeth on Dec. 4. 

Seven schools and 18 teams, including four from the Cape schools, participated in the regional competition. The other schools aiming to send students to the international competition next April in Florida were Jay High School, Portland Arts and Technology High School, Yarmouth High School, Greeley High School, Sanford Regional Vocational Center and Erskine Academy.

A three-team alliance from Jay, PATHS and Cape’s middle school won the tournament, qualifying them for the world competition. In addition to the middle school student winners Jasper Hansel and Andrew Volent, Cape’s high school team, made up of freshmen Anthony Castro and Luke Dvorozniak and senior Jack Queeney, won the Excellence Award, also qualifying them for the world event. The high school team also won the Programming Skills Award.

Kathy Barber, a parent and robotics booster, said the event was a collaboration between the University of Maine College of Engineering and Cape Robotics. It was made possible through a grant from Fairchild Semiconductor. The grant will make the southern Maine competition possible at Cape Elizabeth High School for three years.

“We started with two students two years ago and it has grown to four teams this year,” Barber said. Now there are 11 students who participate in the robotics program.

VEX Robotics uses science, technology, engineering and math skills to teach students how to work together to build robots and compete against other teams. In this year’s competition, two teams competed against each other to place rings onto posts. For 20 seconds, their robots operated in a pre-programmed autonomous mode. The next two minutes were driver-operated, and the robot that scored the most points won.

“The sportsmanship you see is impressive. The kids shake hands and treat each other with respect,” Barber said. “It’s great to see.”

High school science and math teacher Evan Thayer helped create the program, but gave a lot of credit to mechanical engineer Tim Jones of Barber Foods and retired computer programmer Eric Jenson, who worked for DEKA Research & Development, the company founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen.

“The event couldn’t have gone and better or run more smoothly,” Thayer said. “All the students from all the schools had functioning robots and seemed to be enjoying the competition. It was very satisfying to see.”

Thayer said he wants to help other schools in the area start their own robotics teams and participate in the VEX competitions in the future.

“I would like to put my energy toward growing these programs regionally,” he said. “I think the whole region would benefit.”

Barber said she was impressed with how the students handled themselves as teams working to build the robot and during the competition.

“It is amazing to see the level of maturity and design from last year to this year,” she said. “These students are learning life long skills. It’s wonderful to watch them grow.”

With a grant from Fairchild Semiconductor, Maine robotics teams can receive seed money to compete locally and help with travel expenses and registration for the world championship in April.

The state competition will take place at the Bangor Auditorium on Feb. 5.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-03661 ext. 110 or aand[email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Cape Elizabeth High School freshmen Trevor Gale, Liam Simpson and Nick Shedd answer questions about their robot during the first Southern Maine VEX Robotics competition held at Cape Elizabeth on Saturday, Dec. 4. Seven schools and 18 teams competed for a chance to qualify for the world championships in Florida, where 400 teams will compete in a three-day tournament next April.

High school freshmen Luke Dvorozniak and Anthony Castro and senior Jack Queeney won the Excellence Award at the Southern Maine VEX Robotics competition in Cape Elizabeth, qualifying them to compete in the world competition. The Excellence Award is the highest award presented in the VEX Robotics Competition and is given to the team that exemplifies overall excellence in building a well-rounded robotics program.

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