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‘Go Teams’: Six Gorge robotics squads head to state

ODELL — Wy’east Middle School filled Saturday with competitors, parents and volunteers involved in one of the Gorge’s fastest-growing educational/competitive spheres.

“A way to try new things,” is how Dave Carlson of Google described First Lego League robotics, in remarks during the opening ceremonies at the FLL qualifying tournament.

“You guys have worked really hard to get where you are today, so I say, ‘go teams,’” Carlson said, noting that Gorge robotics started four years ago with 12 teams, and grew to 47 last year, and 52 in 2012.

Twenty teams of students grades 5-8 from Hood River, Wasco and Klickitat counties competed in hopes of going to the Intel Oregon FLL state tournament in Hillsboro in January, sponsored by Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program (ORTOP). It was one of three Gorge qualifying tournaments this fall.

Chargers of Westside Elementary in Hood River took first and Hood River Middle School Men in Purple placed second on Saturday.

Also advancing to state, as ACE award winners, were Gorge Girls and HRMS Seven of Hood River, and Nerd Herd and Team Extreme from White Salmon.

In addition to placing first in the overall award, the Chargers also received the high score in the robot competition with 250 points.

“Although it will likely take 400 points to win at the state level when 120 of the top teams in the state compete,” said coach Joe Nardone, who also coaches Gorge Girls.

The Core Values award, for best problem-solving, went to Autobots from Dallesport School.

“You’ve worked very hard and spent many, many hours preparing for this day and now is the time to show off what you do,” said Catherine Dalbey, Wy’east Middle School principal.

“Many thanks to all our sponsors,” Emmons said, crediting Google “for providing grants and scholarships for planning the event and providing the robotic equipment.”

Emmons and Dalbey introduced tournament director Petra Knapp; head judge George McClain; head referee Jeff Blackman and volunteer coordinator Sophie Oswald, who is a Hood River Valley High School senior.

“The event went very smoothly, with no fires to put out, so it was kind of boring at times,” joked Knapp, a senior at Hood River Valley High School.

Competition was close, Knapp said.

The top team scored 256 points, with the next four grouped at the 250-point level. This compares to scores in The Dalles qualifying the previous week, in which one team topped 300 and the next four were spaced between 200-250.

The Extra Awards were presented as follows:

n: Robot Performance —Chargers

n Robot Design — Robo Hunters from Glenwood

n Rising Star — Jupiter, White Salmon

n Project Award — HRMS Team Eight, for skill in presenting the design and development of their project.

The challenge changes every year. This year students partnered with senior citizens 60 or over to create an innovative solution to a problem, and present it to judges.

“Overall, the projects went well,” Knapp said. “We had a few returning teams that were good and a few more teams just kind of figuring things out,”

Knapp said that judges remarked that Gorge Girls have “a great system of organizing their program management,” and Chargers were able to demonstrate that “they really had a lot of program experience.”

Knapp said Glenwood’s Eagle Bots from showed engineering acumen by utilizing the SolidWorks engineering program in putting together its Core Values challenge.

“I was really impressed with their SolidWorks,” said Knapp, a veteran robotics competitor whose parents are engineers.

The centerpiece of competition was head-to-head maneuvering of their robot creations on the 6-by-10-foot competition tables, containing ramps and obstacles. Teams tried to rack up as many points as they could in three rounds of two minutes, 20 seconds each

Carlson said “A big thank you goes to ORTOP, which runs the statewide events. Oregon has the fifth-highest number of these events in the nation and 27th largest population, and it wouldn’t happen without ORTOP. We owe events like this to ORTOP as much as to Google, and without Gorge Technology Alliance this would not have gotten off the ground.

“Why does Google do this?” Carlson said. “These events are a way to open to doors to STEM to students who might not have thought of being engineers before. A lot of these kids who go on to high school also go on to engineering.”

“It’s all about volunteerism — thousands and thousands of volunteers,” said Bruce Shafer of ORTOP.

Blackman, the robotics teacher at HRVHS, said, “Four years ago, someone approached me about robotics, and that was Mark Dane (of Hood River).

“He’s actually the instigator of this whole thing,” Blackman said. “Four years ago an ice storm stopped this team from going to a qualifying, and Mark asked ORTOP to let us hold a qualifying in Hood River. We went from four teams (high school) then, now 50. It has grown exponentially.

“This is all leading into my program at the high school,” Blackman said. “I’m, hoping to see all these young faces up at the (high school level) at some point.”

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