SOUTH PORTLAND — Evan Rankin watched closely as he put his team’s robot, Flippidy Rippidy, through its paces Saturday in a noisy gymnasium filled with competitors working on their own robotic creations.

Maneuvering the robot’s flipping mechanism, Evan, 15, the robot’s driver, said he was pleased.

“I am very happy with this. We won both competitions so far,” said the York High School sophomore.

His teammates, Eben Wilson, 16, Keegan Kuhn, 15, Billy Bachelder, 15, and Tarun Ramgulam, 14, agreed. But they said they were keeping their eye on the teams to beat, those from Cape Elizabeth High School.

The five teammates were among about 200 high school and middle school students competing in the Maine VEX Robotics State Championship at The Point Community Center. The all-day competition pitted teams from 41 Maine high schools and nine middle schools, who had been winnowed down in bouts throughout the school year.

By the end of the day, which began at 9 a.m. and stretched past 5:30 p.m., seven teams had triumphed and six had secured spots at the 2019 VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, in April.


Cape Elizabeth High School will be sending two teams, which between them won the High School Excellence Award, as well as robot skills and tournament champions awards. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone also will be sending two teams, which won design and robot skills awards.

Also heading to the World Championship will be a team from John Bapst High School in Bangor, which won a tournament champions award, and a team from Monmouth Middle School, which won the Middle School Excellence Award. All Saints Catholic School in Bangor won the Judges Award.

The teams competed in three arenas against a backdrop of live big-screen closeups while an announcer described the action. The robots, all designed and programmed by the students, squared off in a series of two-minute matches involving flinging balls and knocking competitors off platforms.

The robots look like elaborate Erector sets and it was oddly exciting to watch them try to ram each other off the top spot on a platform, while parents and friends in the bleachers cheered them on.

“It gets the adrenalin pumping. It is a fine thing,” said Eben, the York High team member.

The competition is sponsored by the Robotics Institute of Maine, with more than 2,000 students competing to make it to Saturday’s championship.


Kyle McLellan, chairman of the institute’s executive board, said the competition helps students develop skills needed to pursue a technology-based career, filling a gap not adequately filled by schools.

Cape Elizabeth robotics coach Evan Thayer said robotics helps students develop independent problem-solving skills. In Cape Elizabeth robotics programs are offered starting in fifth grade. By middle school and high school, some students are spending two hours a day, five days a week after school working on robots.

Thayer said there are many different areas of interest students can pursue on the robotics teams. Some students are intensely focused on the engineering aspects of design and building. Others are interested in the some of the sociological aspects, such as figuring out and building on the strengths of the competition.

Keeping an eye on the competition was one of the roles taken on by Luke O’Kelly, a Cape Elizabeth High School sophomore. Luke said got involved with the robotics team for the first time this year because of his interest in engineering. But he said it’s also interesting to pick up pointers for the team by looking at what the competition is up to.

“It is exciting to watch,” he said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.