Roanoke College and the Salem High School Spartan Robotics team co-hosted an off-season FIRST Robotics Competition, Blue Ridge Brawl, Saturday at the Cregger Arena.
Dr. Catherine Sarisky, a professor in the Roanoke College Chemistry Department, said, “We had a great day. We’re super happy to have all of the teams come out and get to drive around on a real field.”
The competition provided high school students with an up-close experience with the real-world engineering industry. Students who participated learned problem-solving skills, teamwork and sportsmanship.
The competition required students to work under strict rules with limited time and resources to build industrial-sized robots. The robots were programmed to play a field game with other teams.
“We want kids to get excited about science and technology and math. We have kids who are excited about math—that’s great and all, but there aren’t a whole lot of jobs for professional athletes. There are a tremendous number of jobs in STEM,” Sarisky said. “This is an opportunity to do something competitive and exciting. It’s a pretty good spectator sport.”
Teams that competed in the Blue Ridge Brawl included Copperhead Robotics, of Christiansburg, Copperhead Robotics B-Team, of Christiansburg, Cometbots, of South Boston, the STAGS, of Martinsville, Flagship, of Knoxville, Tennessee, Botetourt 4-H Robotics, of Buchanan, Spartan Robotics, of Salem, Mean Caimans, of Cedar Bluff, CAVBOTICS, of Fairfax and Tex Mex Lizards, of Richmond.
Teams compete in alliances. Spartan Robotics and Copperhead Robotics claimed victory during the competition. “Our two local teams were victorious, which is always fun,” Sarisky said.
A demonstration by FIRST Lego League teams consisting of grades four through eight was held from 1:30-3 p.m.
Comprised of about 30 students, Spartan Robotics was started in 2015.
The competition, which was open to the public, lasted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The first year the competition was held was 2019 at Salem High School. Although it had been scheduled to return last year, COVID-19 restraints led to the cancelation of the competition.
Sarisky explained that the partnership between the college and high school came about from a desire she and Randy Brinkley, the now deceased mentor of the Spartan Robotics team, had to work together. She recalled they wanted “to get more robotics opportunities into Salem and the Roanoke Valley.”
“While the high school had construction going on, it seemed like it made good sense to put it over at the college,” she said. “We carried on without him this year. I’m super glad to get to do that.”
The Blue Ridge Brawl is an off-season competition. The actual season runs January through late April. Sarisky said the plan is to hold the event again next year.