DALLAS — Two Hancock County teams scored big in the VEX Robotics World Championships in Dallas, Texas this week.
A team from New Palestine Junior High school and a pair of home-schooled students from New Palestine both won their divisions and placed in the top five in the final championship round in the middle school category.
That’s a huge deal considering they were competing among an estimated 800 teams from around the world.
Those 800 teams were randomly sorted into 10 divisions during the competition.
In the end, three of the 10 division winners were from Indiana, including the two from Hancock County.
The Blaze team, consisting of New Palestine seventh-graders Everett Bishop and Dexter Buckley — who are home-schooled — won their division with a perfect score. They advanced to the world finals where they achieved another perfect score, which landed them in a four-way tie for first, but they ended up in fourth place after a tie-breaker.
The team called I’m A Banana — consisting of New Palestine Junior High School students Austin Greulich, Bryce Thompson and Joe Wilson — placed fifth in the world finals after winning their division. A second team from the school — called Wooosh — placed second in their division.
The teams arrived Saturday in Dallas for the competition, which took place Sunday through Tuesday at various locations.
“Participating in world championships is like the Super Bowl of robotics,” said Brandon Wilson, who coaches the New Palestine Junior High School robotics program. “It’s a big deal. Going into it, both of our teams knew they were going to have to be competitive but had no idea just how amazing and difficult this experience would be. All of these kids have such a bright future, and I am blessed to have been part of such a great season with them. I believe this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience they will never forget.”
Everett and Dexter — who have been teammates for three years through the Cornerstone Robotics club for home-schooled kids — were basking in the glow of their win on the 14-hour drive home Wednesday night.
“I didn’t think we were going to do this well,” said Everett. “I had hoped we’d make the division finals, but I didn’t think we’d win it. We just knew we had to stay calm and make all those shots.”
Each year, VEX Robotics unveils a new challenge for student robotics teams which carries through the competition season. This year’s challenge was to build a robot that can pick up balls and launch them into a tower. The team that successfully launched the most in each competition wins.
Everett and Dexter said competing on a world stage — where an estimated 10,000 players and spectators were gathered — is something they’ll never forget.
“I went to worlds once back when I was 9, and it was really really scary because I was never on a big stage like that, but it was super cool and fun,” said Everett.
While competing in a big arena was somewhat intimidating, the 13-year-old said he loved the chance to meet other robotics club members from other parts of the world.
Their team was paired with a team from Canada in one round while the I’m a Banana team played with a team from Mexico, working through an interpreter to clinch the division win on Tuesday before heading to the finals where they placed in a three-way tie for fifth-place.
“Seeing them overcome a language barrier in just minutes to work with their partners made me so proud of our team,” said Wilson.
The coach said it was also nice seeing some familiar faces at the tournament, like the kids from Cornerstone Robotics, who often practice with the New Palestine Junior High School teams. It was exciting to see the hometown teams do so well on a global stage, he said.
“It was exciting to see our state perform. This is the best any New Pal school has done at Worlds, so we’re very excited,” said Wilson, whose son is on the I’m a Banana team.
Everett’s mom, Nicole Bishop, said it was thrilling to see so many local students fare so well.
“We’re just super proud of them, especially the character and composure they showed,” she said.
Bishop also had a daughter compete at the world robotics championships last week, in the high school competition held in Dallas May 4-6.
Claire Bishop, Avery Fry, and Noah Harris — Team 115B from Greenfield-Central High School — finished 53rd in their division. They also won the Innovate Award, presented to a team that has demonstrated a strong combination of ingenuity and innovation in designing its VEX robot.
Another Greenfield-Central team — comprised of Liam Brinkruff, Ema Bogle, and Daniel Jones — finished 23rd in their division. Both teams made it to the Tournament Alliance, but were ousted in Round 16.
Julie Stoeffler, who helps coach robotics at Greenfield-Central High School, said the dedicated group of students has already started working on prototypes for their robots for the next school year.
“The kids work hard and persist when things don’t go well,” said Stoeffler. “They’re a great group of kids, and we’re proud of them.”