Patrick Rolfe, 13, a seventh grader at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, works on his team’s robot in the “pit” area at 2024 Main VEX Robotics State Championship at The Point in South Portland on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After a long day of competition, all eyes were on teams from Cape Elizabeth and Newcastle as they faced off against an alliance of two teams from Yarmouth.

For three rounds, the four robots built and operated by high school students maneuvered around the field, launching triangular balls and knocking them into nets. In the end, Cape Elizabeth High School’s Annihilation and Lincoln Academy’s Electric Eagles walked away state champions. They celebrated with high-fives and hugs as their final scores were displayed on a screen behind them.

All four teams – including Yarmouth’s Marvin the Paranoid Android and Improbable Hat Society – head next to the world championship.

The middle school champions were Team Phishy from Yarmouth and their alliance partners Armageddon from Cape Elizabeth, who won a three-round final match against the alliance of Splash from York and Our Name’s Gone to Narnia from Cape Elizabeth.

During the VEX Robotics State Championship held Saturday at The Point in South Portland, 72 teams competed with robots built by the students. The 48 high school and 24 middle school teams came from all over Maine. Eight teams will move on to the world VEX robotics championship in Dallas next month.

Ali Bessette, an event organizer from the Robotics Institute of Maine, an Augusta nonprofit that works to grow robotics and allow all Maine students to learn from hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, said teams competed in qualifiers hosted at different schools to qualify for states.


Students building robots, and competing with them, are learning needed critical skills in the workforce, Bessette said.

The robots built by students “are not simple – drive back and forth. They’re complex. They have to score triangular (balls) and put them into goal nets. At the same time, also, they have to be maneuvered over pipes, climb and elevate them. So they get to learn the programming hands-on. They’re programming these robots themselves. They’re learning complex thinking of: How does this work? They’re learning the mechanical side of things. They’re getting that hands-on experience early.”

The experience could encourage some students to explore engineering, Bessette said.

“We always need more engineers. There’s ever-growing technology and engineering, and the need for people to drive it. Maine has a lot of industry, and we always need more people.”

The team from John Bapst High School in Bangor, from far right, Giuseppe Aulisa, Joshua Igwe and Logan Hart compete at the 2024 Main VEX Robotics State Championship at The Point in South Portland on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The excitement and energy of the event was palpable from the beginning of the day.


Inside The Point Community Center, teams of students used handheld remote controls that moved robots they built themselves. As they maneuvered the robots across the competition field, robotic arms extended. The machines shot bright green triangular balls across “the field,” trying to land a “tri-ball” under a net.

Defending robots from opposing teams tried to stop any scoring.

Before the qualifying match ended, successful teams maneuvered their robots around the ring, shot balls, then lifted the machines up on a bar – called “the elevation” move – a kind of robot pull-up. If a robot did the elevation well, it not only showed off what the machine could do but also added points.

“We won!” said an elated Liam Nudd of the qualifying match. Nudd, 15, a member of the Hot Pink Chili Peppers team from Cape Elizabeth, wore matching hot pink and blue shirts.

“The elevation went great,” Nudd said. “We pulled ourselves up on the first time. Everything went really well – a couple of adjustments to make, but we’re right there.”

Carrying their robot, the four-member team, two girls and two boys, hurried off to “the pits” to tweak their robot.


In addition to Nudd, other Hot Pink Chili Peppers teammates were Bella Wark, 15, Gillian Lench, 16, and Jack Wark, 15. The competition is special, Nudd said, because there are a lot of students from different schools throughout Maine. “It’s different from a sports game in the sense that you’re meeting everybody at once. It’s a great atmosphere.”

The team started building their robot in December at the high school. Other students started building a robot last year or in September, Nudd said.

Every year, there’s a challenge that guides students on how to engineer their robots, Wark said. Robots complete different actions to fetch points during competition, she said. “So when you hear the challenge, you have to decide how to build a robot.” Their robot can raise itself up and hang on a pole, she said. “And our bot shoots balls and can possess a ball and drive it around.”

Vaishnavi Kuppala, 16, a sophomore, and Matthew Fagerlund, 16, a junior, both from Scarborough High School, work on their robot before their qualifying round at the 2024 Main VEX Robotics State Championship at The Point in South Portland on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The Guppies from John Bapst High School drove down from Bangor to compete. Josh Igwe, 16, said his team was doing well in the competition, winning two qualifying matches.

“We’re confident to how we’re going to do,” he said. Building robots “is our passion. We just love it.”


Bob Huang, 16, said he’s learned much from his friends since he started doing robotics. “Before, I had no idea how to program.” And he added that he enjoys working with other Guppies members.

Why the fish name?

It was inspired by a stuffed fish from a classroom, and team members brought it with them to display in their work area.

The Guppies were given the Amaze Award, which recognizes a consistently high-performing and competitive robot.

Late in the afternoon, the top teams paired up into strategic alliances for the final rounds of competition.

In the pit, team members from Scarborough High School’s Zero Brain Cells huddled on the floor around their robot, talking softly as they made last-minute adjustments. During a match, they realized their robot was top-heavy. They also wanted to adjust a launcher so they could move under objects more easily.

Ella Schulz, 16, said the competition gives her a creative outlet to “make a cool robot.” She also loves problem-solving with her teammates, Matthew Fagerlund, Vaishnavi Kuppala and Abigail Rasquinha.

With just minutes to go before their match, the teens quickly swept spare pieces and tools from the floor. Fagerlund scooped up the robot and the team took off, weaving their way through the building to the competition fields.

The team didn’t advance to the finals, but they walked away with the Sportsmanship Award for their respect and enthusiasm during the competition.

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