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Robotics teams load up for Houston

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Members of Pitt Pirates and Boneyard Robotics load up a bus on Tuesday to head to Houston to compete in the FIRST World Championship, which is being held later this week at the George R. Brown Convention Center.


Sharieka Botex
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Allen Stork can think of no other place he would rather spend spring break than Houston.

Although Texas is hardly a destination for Pitt County high school students, it’s where Stork, a senior at D.H. Conley High School, and his mates in the Pitt County robotics program have had their sights set for months.

On Tuesday, many of those students representing Boneyard Robotics and the Pitt Pirates loaded up an East Carolina University bus — some will be flying — to head west to the FIRST Robotics World Championship, to be held later this week at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

It’s been a long road, paved with many hours of commitment.

“Starting in January, we did every day of every week including weekends,” Stork said. “In all, it’s about a 20-hour week, which could be a part-time job.” 

The payoff has been district and regional championships and two Chairman’s Awards for the Pitt Pirates and a third-place finish in the state championships for Boneyard. The Pitt Pirates, a team in its 10th year, also made it to Worlds in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Boneyard Robotics, just in its third year, advances for the first time.

Stork was a member of Pitt Pirates in 2014. As a lead designer this year, he helps others with engineering drawings. 

Stork said the team has come up with interesting ideas for its robot Gemini, including using a 3-D printer.

“After this strong season, I only expect us to have as much fun as we can,” he said. “It’s not that much stress on the team. We’ve already done well this season. It would be nice if we could make it to finals like we did in 2014.” 

Ann McClung, a robotics mentor and coordinator for STEM Education at East Carolina University, said 58 students and 20 adults will make the trip to Houston. She eagerly awaits what the teams can accomplish next.

“I always want to improve every time,” McClung said. “Every time we go there’s always a first. We are hoping that we will win awards in our division and hopefully place in our division, and the biggest dream is to go on and win Einstein.” 

Ulises Gamez, a member of Pitt Pirates, said the trip is more than about winning.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if we win or not, though I do expect that we at least get top 30,” Gamez said. “I expect a lot of high knowledge and safety. I will also expect highly that our team doesn’t fall down or crack when we lose a match, because we have other opportunities besides winning the competition itself, like Chairman's or the spirit award. Winning is not the only thing out there.”

Gamez, a freshman at North Pitt, seemed optimistic about what’s ahead for both Pitt teams.

“Knowing what the team has done before and knowing that this is our 10th anniversary, I did kind of expect for us to get this far,” Gamez said. “... Obviously, Boneyard has been a great team within itself, and they have risen a lot. This is their third year, so it says a lot for them.”

Boneyard team member David Johnson, who attends Pitt County Schools Early College High School, said his team is more like a younger sibling trying to compete, but both teams support and inspire one another.

“It’s just a really great experience,” Johnson said.

John Jones agrees. He has enjoyed watching his son, Jonathan Jones, a 17-year-old D.H. Conley student, and his Boneyard Robotics teammates getting rewarded for their hard work, even if there are some tense moments.

“You never really know how they are going to do until the end,” Jones said. “It’s kind of like sporting events where you’re really nervous and kind of on the edge of your seat. There were some real nail-biter moments through the whole thing.

“We knew that they had a good team, and both teams were really good, and we knew they were going to do pretty well. ... You're never sure. There could always be a breakdown. Anything could happen. It was very exciting.”

Contact Sharieka Botex at 252-329-9567 and sbotex@reflector.com. Follow her on Twitter @ShariekaB.