SPARTA, NJ -  Teams from across New Jersey, came together at Sparta High School for the school’s first VEX robotics competition. Sparta’s four teams joined 34 other teams on Sat, Feb 13 with teams making it to the final round.  One team even earned an award for excellence.

Benjamin Mitchell, President of the Garden State Robotics welcomed everyone to the event saying, “We don’t usually have facilities this nice.” The cafeteria was turned into the staging area with a practice pit and even a fully stocked concession stand.  The main gym had two competition pits.

After Mitchell’s introduction and explanation of the day’s program, the Robotics teacher and team advisor Mark Meola went on to coach every team’s performance.

Sign Up for E-News

When asked about each team’s performance, Evan Marcino responded “good is the enemy of great, our robot is good but could be great.”

For Sparta, three out of the four teams went on to compete in the final rounds, though the final team had to decline due to technical difficulties. The team of John Tartaglia, Ben Giugliano, Brenden Brusberg, Alex Poret and Ibrahim Awan made it into the final six but were unable to place first, second or third.  The team qualified for states, however, by receiving the Excellence Award also known as the Best Overall Award which is a state-qualifying award.

Shocked about receiving the award, team member Ben Giugliano said “In the last couple competitions we placed in the middle of the pack, but the hard work we’ve put in has begun to pay off and it showed in our four place finish.”

The VEX Robotics Competition is a STEM activity for middle school and high school students.  An engineering challenge is presented and students build robots in order to complete the task. While adhering to many rules and regulations, the robot goes on to try score the most points possible in qualification matches, elimination matches and skills challenges. By successfully completing these challenges, robots can qualify for states based on points earned in the categories of Driving, Programming and Skills.

This year’s challenge was to build a robot that could pick up, load and shoot foam balls into a net basket structure or the pole structure in front. Requiring precise measurements and projectile, the participants try to score as many balls in the designated area in order to score as many points as possible.

Competitors had to program the bots to work autonomously as well as to be controlled by a team member. Strategy is a large factor in winning with different point values for different colored balls, ability to block and score on the opponent to keep the score in the preferred range. 

Beginning at 11 a.m., 65 qualification matches began. Teams were randomly paired to work together competing against another pair of teams; four bots in the pit at a time. Each win represented an increase in ranking.  Each team was given seven qualifying matches to win the most possible points or matches.

In the final rounds the top six teams went on to compete for first, second and third place. In addition, teams could also win awards for things like Best Technical Journal, Design and more.

Sparta High School will be sending three teams to states, scheduled for Sunday, Feb 21 in Cherry Hill.

The competition concluded on a high note, Mitchell said, “Next year I expect to have double the amount of teams with all the bleachers full.”