Centre County 4-H Robotics Club wins world championship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Centre County 4-H Robotics Club recently brought home the gold after winning the FIRST Robotics Competition — the first Pennsylvania team to capture the title.

"We are very proud of the Centre County 4-H Robotics team and their great success and achievements," said Joshua Rice, assistant director of 4-H programs for Penn State Extension. "The win represents the team's commitment to excellence, and they deserve a standing ovation."

The FIRST Robotics Competition is an international high school robotics competition. Each year, teams of high school students, coaches and mentors work during a six-week period to build game-playing robots that weigh up to 120 pounds.

Robots complete tasks such as scoring balls into goals, flying discs into goals, placing inner tubes onto racks, hanging on bars and balancing robots on balance beams. This year, the competition required robots to lift covered milk crates called "power cubes" — as high as 8 feet off the ground — to score points on moving field elements.

The Centre County 4-H Robotics Club was one of 405 teams from 22 states and seven countries to compete in the late-April event, held at the Cobo Convention Center in Detroit. Each team earned a spot in the contest based on competition performance throughout the year. This year, the team earned its spot by winning its first regional competition at the Greater Pittsburgh Regional in March.

Robotics clubs are among Penn State Extension's 4‑H science programs that provide youth the opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering and math through fun, hands-on activities and projects. Other STEM-related focus areas include rocketry, environmental science, agriscience, biotechnology and veterinary science. These clubs complement other 4-H special interest programs in areas such as healthy living, expressive arts, animal science and more.

The championship entailed 10 rounds of qualification matches in six divisions. The top eight teams in each division drafted an alliance of four robots to compete in a single-elimination playoff to determine the division champion, at which time the Centre County team joined forces with Stryke Force from Kalamazoo, Michigan; Team Rush from Clarkston, Michigan; and Lake Effect Robotics from Kingston, Ontario.

The final six alliances faced off in the round-robin "Einstein" playoff, with the two highest-scoring alliances earning a spot in the finals at Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions. The Centre County team and its alliance partners swept the finals and won the championship. 

"Not only is this the first championship banner Centre County 4-H Robotics has earned, it is the first earned by a team from Pennsylvania," said Bill Jester, club mentor. "This was such an amazing accomplishment by our students. When we went to Detroit, we were satisfied that we had earned our way with a victory in a regional event in Pittsburgh, and we were hoping to have a positive experience competing against some of the best teams from around the world."

However, after three days of hard work, perseverance, and "a bit of luck," Jester said the team found itself on the floor of Ford Field "celebrating with our alliance partners in front of tens of thousands of spectators after winning the FIRST world championship. This is a story our students and leaders will be telling for years to come."

One youth who will be sharing that story is Tom Sowers, a State College Area High School senior and team driver, who called the experience one-of-a-kind.

"Driving our robot in front of tens of thousands of people was like nothing I had ever done. My legs were shaking, I could barely hear the coaches yelling instructions to our drive team," he said. "My brain was moving a million miles a second. It felt like we were playing in the Super Bowl, which was fitting because we were in Ford Field, an NFL stadium."

While winning the trophy was a monumental moment, the personal growth gained as a member of the team was the real reward for Mary Davis, a senior at Grier School in Tyrone.

"I gained a sense of self-assurance as a leader on the team throughout this season," she said. "Especially as a woman who joined this club with a limited understanding of robotics, the confidence I now have is extremely empowering."

Other team members are Tate Geiger, Hannah Strouse, Petr Esakov, James Hanagan, Nathan Tack, Thad Valentine, Griffen Josephs, Roger Nagel, Emily Christensen, Zach Jester, Lachlan Sneff, Isaiah Adu, Ben Servey, A.J. Marsala, Braydon Button, Alex Mullen, Eli Johnson and Lee Conklin.

In addition to Jester, the club's mentors are Cole Daubenspeck, Adam Last, Adam Nedorezov, Jacob Oakman and Soham Pant, with assistance from Jessica Pflugfelder, Penn State Extension 4-H educator.

Jester also acknowledged the support received from the community. "We have so many people to thank for making this happen. We couldn't have achieved this without the support of Centre County 4-H or our generous community financial partners, including Channel Communications, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, ASME-Central Pennsylvania Section, Blue Mountain Software, Siemens, Loop Software, TechKnowServ and many others."

Centre County 4-H Robotics is always open to new students, adult mentors and business partners. For more information, visit its website at http://centre4h-robotics.org or contact Jester at billjester3@gmail.com.

4-H programs touch an estimated 95,000 youth in Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit https://extension.psu.edu/programs/4-h.

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated May 03, 2018