Robotics teams from across Texas compete Dec. 2 with their VEX robots in a qualifying tournament at Shoemaker High School with top teams moving on toward a world championship event. Shoemaker STEM Academy students competed in the event and played host, running the competition

Once again, the Shoemaker High School cafeteria converted into a robotics arena, with elementary, middle school and high school teams from a wide swath of Texas on hand Dec. 2 to show off their engineering skills.

For the sixth year, the Shoemaker Cyberwolves robotics team hosted the robotics challenge for a rolling style of robot called VEX. In addition to entering six teams of its own, the Shoemaker team, tied to the school’s STEM Academy, hosted the event with students keeping track of scores, assisting guests and calling each team to the playing field.

Shoemaker junior Brianna Murphy, STEM Academy president, was in the thick of the action.

She served as master of ceremonies, calling teams to a staging area, then onto two 12-foot playing surfaces, while managing the timed robotics competitions.

Between her duties, with microphone in hand, she explained that the robots in this year’s challenge, stacked cones and maneuvered and parked in color-specific zones.

Each head-to-head challenge began with an autonomous round with robots moving based on preprogramming followed by a remote control round with students guiding the robots through a challenge.

A separate event, called the VEX IQ Challenge, took part in a different part of the cafeteria with younger students.

A total of 48 teams participated, coming from Temple, Copperas Cove, San Antonio, Austin, Rockwall, Palestine, Texas City and other parts of the state.

Teams competed to qualify for the South Texas Championship scheduled Feb. 22 in Friendswood for a shot at the world championship in April in Kentucky.

Hosting the event, Murphy said, is a privilege for the local team and helps Shoemaker team members build leadership skills.

“I love working with the little ones,” she said, referencing the mentoring she and her peers do with younger competitors. “They are the future and with all four high schools (in Killeen Independent School District) having STEM academies (starting next fall), we are expanding.”

She said the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math attract students because of the opportunity to build and program in order to meet an engineering challenge.

“We also build a community together,” she said. “We have teams here that drove five hours to get here. It’s stressful to run a competition, but I like it.”

Shoemaker senior Aja Collette also worked during the event, coordinating the multiple rounds of competition. “I like seeing the different ways that robots work. They do the same job, but they do it differently.”

She said she was drawn to STEM and to robotics for the behind-the-scenes jobs, working on the mechanics in the pit area of competition. “I like helping others and making sure we have the parts we need,” she said.

The senior STEM student said it was exciting to host the annual VEX event, though she also liked traveling to other competitions.

“I think it’s cool that others want to come see what it’s like, how we do things,” Collette said. “We don’t have to travel.”

Traveling didn’t seem to bother two teams that cleaned up with the major awards at the qualifying event in Killeen. The Texas City High School team won the Excellence Award, Tournament Champions and Design Award. The team from Palestine High school won a Tournament Champions award.

In the spring, the Cyberwolves will compete in FIRST events that feature a larger robot format.

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