SPARTA, N J – Robots were working and battling in the gym at Sparta High School on Saturday.  Sparta Robotics teams did well with two additional teams qualifying to compete at “states” later this year.

“We had a banner day for Sparta High School robotics,” Coach Mark Meola said.

Team Tyrannosaurs VEX 5249S earned the Excellence Award.  Erich Schwarzrock, Hunter Roggero, Jake Scott and Chris Sheri earned the Top All Around Team award based on the performance of their ‘bot as well as the judges’ evaluation of the team after interview and review of their engineering notebook. 

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Billboodo 5249A team members Chad Hannigan, Ian Thompson and Robert Song took home a Tournament Champions Award.  This award is based on how well the robots performed “In the Zone” challenges on the field. 

Alexandra Poret, Jack Williamson, Julia Muth, Pat McGurrin, Emmet Sedar, Karthik Selvaraj and Josh Knospler of Endevoure 5249Z received a Tournament Finalist Award.  Their robot was a runner-up in the challenge.

Tyrannosaurs VEX also earned a Tournament Finalist Award.  All three teams will compete at the New Jersey VEX Robotics Competition State Championships in Cherry Hill next month.

The In the Zone challenge for this competition season requires robots to move pylons over bars that increase in height in the corner of the field.  Other cones could be stacked on top of the movable pylons or on stationary pillars in the middle of the field.  

Teams participate three rounds of skills challenges; a combination of autonomous or programed and driver control.  The lowest score is dropped and the other two combined.

The head to head challenges on the battle field have two teams randomly paired to work together against another pair of robots.  Both alliances work to get the highest score possible.  As the teams qualify for the final rounds, they are allowed to choose their alliance partners according to Meola.

The team members are encouraged to watch the competition and even interview other teams to find alliance partners who compliment their skills.  Both teams in an alliance win the top robot performance awards.

Sparta has seven sub teams this year, up from five last year.  The expansion is due to “the natural growth of the program,” Meola said.  With a $3,000 price tag per ‘bot, “there is a practical limit to the program.”

The robotics program, both academic classes and after school teams, have an expanded home this year.  The wall was opened up doubling the size of the room. 

“We are loving the new space,” Meola said.  “It helps us to be able to think through problems when we aren’t tripping over stuff.”

The program was also augmented with new equipment.

“The new space has greatly expanded our capability to produce a world class robot,” Sedar said.

“The room gives up the space to work on our robots even when other classes are in here,” Jack Williamson said.  “The equipment is nice too.  It allows up to do so much more.”

McGurrin agreed.

“Before the lab we were really primitive. We only had tools like a hacksaw and sledge hammer and would have to stand on line waiting to use them.  Now we can make parts extremely fast.”

Sparta hosted approximately 35 teams last Saturday, down from the initial 50+ teams that registered.  School closures for snow and an added competition in south Jersey affected the turnout.  Parents volunteered to run the snack stand and sell pizza. 

The team will have two more opportunities to hone their robots, perfect their skills and earn a ticket to states.  They will be competing at South Brunswick high school next.  Millburn will be the final chance to compete before the finals.