Rookie robotics team wins FFL qualifier

Middle school Horizon 1 advances to state tournament

“Horizon 1” has established itself on the robotics landscape.

The Horizon Christian School middle school First Lego League robotics team won the FLL qualifying tournament at Hood River Valley High School on Saturday. The Oregon FLL championship will be Jan. 18-19 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

Also qualifying for state were V Cubed of Portland and The Dalles-Wahtonka, which won the first- and second-place Inspire Awards, for overall performance, including engineering notebook and judges’ interviews.

Meanwhile, at another qualifying tournament Saturday at OMSI, the Hood River Valley High School team Meta Superior also advanced to state.

A total of 24 teams, with 180 students, participated in an event the HRVHS Blackhawks team called “Robotics Block Party.” Teams competing at HRVHS hailed from Seattle, Bend, Hermiston, Portland, The Dalles and Hood River.

As organizers, Blackhawks did not compete Saturday, but will do so later in either Portland or Junction City.

“It was a huge success,” Jeff Blackman said of Saturday’s tournament. Blackman is the HRVHS engineering teacher and robotics program founder.

“Everybody had a good time and it all went smoothly. We had help from 50-plus volunteers from all different kinds of businesses,” he said.

Teams were comprised of seventh grade on up, and older teams often helped younger teams. It was the first qualifier for coach Trey Rigert and his Horizon 1 squad.

“The guys have learned about programming, problem solving, and teamwork, and have had a blast so far. It’s a young team but we’re building for the future at Horizon and looking forward to state,” Rigert said.

“The guys and I are super-grateful for the mentoring we received from Mr. Blackman and the HRV high school robotics teams and parents. As rookies we would not have had a chance without tons of help.”

Blackman said “What makes this year unique is we had 60 percent growth in Oregon for FCC teams; from 90 to 160. At our tournament we had a lot of rookie teams, and this is the first year they opened it to seventh and eighth grade. Even though a lot of them won, not all of them were completely prepared and I think we will see a huge improvement in the teams in the next few years because of the popular growth this year.

“A lot of teams learned a lot of valuable information this year at our qualifier. One of the hardest things for a team to do is pass inspection if it’s their first qualifier, and we had lots of teams that were not ready, but Blackhawks stepped up and really helped them.”

Senior Taylor Kramer helped one team reprogram its robot, which would not function at all, and the team was able to complete the competition.

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