Valley Christian group among nation’s best in robotics finals

Four Valley Christian teens have returned home after their team, “Valley X,” competed in an international robotics championship in Atlanta.

Juniors Andrew Ruth, Michael Farris and Nathan LeDeaux, along with freshman Matthew Rainey, placed in the top 11 among 100 teams in the FIRST-For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology-2009 World Championship April 16-18.

FIRST runs programs for elementary and middle school students as well as for high school scholars. The primary-education teams compete in the Lego division, while the high school groups face off in robotics competition or tech challenge.

The challenge consists of combination of an obstacle course and game competition, in which teams have to navigate their robots through a difficult course of obstacles and pick up pucks and place them in a goal. By completing these tasks within an allotted time, the teams earned one to five points for each puck.    

“I think it was challenging but not impossible,” Ruth said. “It allowed a variety of ways to play, and every team had their own strategy for playing the game.”   

Four teams competed in each game. Teams were split into two groups, with the emphasis on learning to work with others.

“It was pretty easy to work together because of gracious professionalism, which is a big part of the FIRST program,” Ruth said.

“At the competition, we would discuss who could do different tasks better, and then we would work together to play the game and accomplish our goals.”

The FIRST competition draws students and parents from all around the U.S. and several countries around the world.

“The scale of it (the competition) was what made it memorable,” Ruth said. “There were so many people there interested in math and science and having fun with it.”

The team did not just sign up online and hop on a plane; the participants’ journey to Atlanta was long and tedious. 

Team member Farris’ grandfather was a mentor to a school team for many years before his retirement. So the Farris family introduced the boys to the FIRST program. Although it is a school club and holds meeting at the school, the team does not have anyone from the school working with them.

“I like math and science, and it seemed like an interesting and fun thing to do,” Ruth said. “I really enjoy it, and I have definitely learned a lot more about programming, robotics and mechanical engineering.”

Competitors registered with FIRST and then waited for their official robot parts to arrive. Once the pieces were delivered, the students built their entry and practiced for the regional competition earlier this year at Carl Hayden High School, where they won the Inspire Award that also qualified them for the World Championship.

“It is really enjoyable being able to build something and have it actually work,” Ruth said. “I encourage other kids to get evolved.”

Although earning an 11 finish at this year’s competition is something to be proud of, Valley X’s members say they’re not satisfied and are looking forward to next year.

“We’re planning on getting more people to join. Since most of the team will be graduating after next year, we will be training new people so that they can lead after some of us are gone,” Ruth said.

“We learn about next year’s game in September; then we have to design a prototype and build our new robot. We are also hoping to visit other schools and introduce them to the FIRST program.”

Others seeking to get involved should visit www.usfirst.org.

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