Robots ruled the Killeen Toss Up VEX Robotics Competition on Saturday at Shoemaker High School.

More than 120 middle and high school students from schools in Killeen, Copperas Cove, Austin, Waco, Fort Worth and Galveston took part in the daylong event.

“It’s all about trial and error and fun,” said Jacob Womack, a junior at Shoemaker.

Five judges and one scorekeeper kept track of the 2-minute rounds inside a 12-foot square ring.

The 30 teams were divided into blue and red and had to maneuver the robots through obstacles to get balls of various sizes past a goal to score points.

“It’s tons of fun while building up my science and engineering knowledge base,” said Zaryaab Rashid, an Anderson High School senior.

The competition is one in a series of tournaments supported by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation in partnership with the VEX Corporation and Texas Workforce Commission.

The commission gave out 400 grants to new teams in Texas plus grants to support 100 existing teams.

“Each grant was about $2,000 per team and paid for registration and most of the materials and supplies the teams needed to build their robots,” said Sandra Melendez, STEM coordinator at Shoemaker.

Wayne Moore, a judge and parent liaison from West Ward Elementary in Killeen, was encouraged by the number of female students.

“That surprised me but in a good way,” Moore said. “It’s great that young girls are taking an interest in science and engineering.”

One of the female students was Aspen Wilkerson, a 17-year-old Waco High School junior.

“I’m really passionate about rescue robotics, like the ones used in medicine and as prosthetics for the disabled,” Wilkerson said.

“All the science and math skills come together to take students to the next level of thinking,” said Dianna Miller, assistant superintendent for the Killeen school district. “This competition is meaningful because it inspires them in so many ways.”

The Shadetree Robotics team consisted of students from Copperas Cove, Killeen and home schools who enjoyed making new friends while building their robot.

“It’s really exciting to have new friends who help me learn to think outside the box,” said Erica Sparkman, a Copperas Cove High junior.

In addition to metal plates, pneumatic parts and cables, teamwork played a big part in building the robots.

Julie Black, parent of a McCallum High School freshman, said she was impressed by the cohesiveness of the teams.

“It’s so impressive to watch them work as a cohesive team,” she said. “They understand what teamwork really means.”

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