Hundreds of high school students from across the southern region of the state faced off in a grueling all-day robotics competition held on Long Island on Saturday.
Many of the 57 teams at the VEX Robotics tournament spent months putting finishing touches on elaborately designed robots, vying to be among the 12 winners to make it to the world championship in Dallas in May.
Inside makeshift arenas at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, there weren't athletes scrimmaging but four robots trying to score points by moving various objects or to stop their opponents from doing so before a two-minute timer went off.
Each team would have one student operate its robot with a remote control unit while other team members provided guidance and strategized to get the most points. Perhaps most impressive, during the first 15 seconds of the match, the machines were autonomous. It was a chance for 500 competitors to put their skills to test, with nearly 250 participants on 27 teams from Nassau and Suffolk counties.
"They’re all trying to represent their school here, you see a lot of pride on the shirts that they’re wearing. They’re wearing their school logo as if it was a sports program. You’re getting kids celebrating as if they won a football championship," said Dan Troy, a team engagement manager at the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation.
For many, getting this far was a feat.
Jayden Easy, 16, a junior at Freeport High School and a member of the Red Devil Robotics B team, said he had been involved in robotics since the sixth grade and it was his first year making it to a state tournament.
"We’ve been working towards this for a while. It’s just really nice to finally get here," said Easy, who helped design his team’s robot, which had a rotating claw to help gain a scoring advantage.
Austin Patience, 16, echoed his teammate’s feelings. "It’s been a fun and exciting ride. I never expected to get to the state. … We’ve made a lot of mistakes but that’s how we get better."
Their coach, Kevin Harrison, 41, believes Freeport High School is the only public high school with four teams competing. "This has been our goal since the beginning of the year. It makes us proud of our program," Harrison said.
Other teams with stellar records struggled to stay in the lead.
"I think everyone wants to win but it really all comes down to how much fun you have," said Matt Krol, a 17-year-old senior at Newfield High School in Selden participating with the Newfield Roverines.
The all-day event was sponsored by Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, the Overclock robotics team and Coast to Coast Robotics.