On Saturday, February 4, 36 robotics teams from 15 schools around Maine gathered at Lincoln Academy for the first-ever Lincoln Academy VEX Robotics tournament.
“It was electric!” raved LA senior Kaden Pendleton, who volunteered during the event. “Knowing so many schools have an interest in this field makes me excited to see where the future of the technology industry will go.”
Senior Brianna Genthner, another volunteer, agreed. “It was an amazing experience being part of the LA community and seeing schools from around the state working together for something they are so passionate about.”
“The Lincoln robotics team started participating in tournaments three years ago, but this was our first time hosting a tournament,” said Susan Levesque, a math and robotics teacher at Lincoln Academy who organized the tournament. “It was a big event to pull off for the first time, but thanks to the support of many people, the event was a success.”
The tournament was based on the 2016-17 challenge designed by VEX Robotics. VEX is an international company that designs an annual competition challenge that robotics programs all over the world use as the basis for competition. This year’s challenge is called “Starstruck,” and the task is to design a simple robot that can lift foam stars and cubes over a fence faster than other robots. Robots compete in two minute matches in a standard ring, and are assigned points based on their ability to move objects from their area over the fence into their opponents’ area.
“I have never seen a robotics tournament before, and it was amazing,” said LA English teacher Brenda Sawyer, who attended as a spectator. “Once I understood the game they were playing and how the teams worked, it became possible to see the nuances in the ways each group approached the task. I brought my 7 year old, and he was completely enthralled, as well.”
“Some schools send several teams and have developed very sophisticated robots,” said Levesque. “Other teams are just getting started and have much simpler robots. The great thing about a tournament is that everyone learns something about how to improve their robot’s capability, no matter whether they win a lot of matches or not.”
The meet had several business sponsors, including major donors Damariscotta-based aquarium design company Tenji Design and Build, and Gizmo Garden; organizers of STEM programs in Lincoln County and beyond. Other sponsors were Masters Machine and Newcastle Chrysler.
“Many groups at Lincoln Academy stepped up to volunteer,” said Lincoln Academy’s Director of Innovation and Technology Maya Crosby. “We had teachers, alumni, parents, students from various clubs, and even trustees volunteering during the tournament. Senior Brie Wajer served as our announcer and emcee. Teachers let us use their classrooms as ‘pits” during the day, so that teams could repair their robots and get ready for their next matches. We absolutely could not have pulled this off without the community coming together.
“The five judges from the LA community were Peter Nadeau (of Tenji Inc.), Mike Lee (of Gizmo Garden), Libby Mooney (LA faculty), Alison Ward (LA Faculty) and Luke Levesque (LA Class of 2013). LA Chef Mikael Andersson put out varied selections for lunch for visitors, and the maintenance staff went above and beyond to help ready the campus for the event. Some intrepid student volunteers stayed all day (Kendra Bellefleur, Patrick McGowan, Jamayka Manter, Brianna Genthner, Kaden Pendleton, Rain She, Chris Dennis) and others helped throughout the day (Tristam Sanborn, Marcel Vrany, Chas Van Damme, and Annie Farnsworth). The Alpha Sigma Gamma group sent an energetic group of representatives at the end of the day to help with the cleaning, which was much appreciated. Jefferson Boy Scout Troop 216 provided snacks for the event selling homemade goodies and beverages throughout the day.”
Lincoln Academy’s Chief Financial Officer Helen Telfer helped make the event possible by making the campus ready for several hundred visitors. She said, “From an operations view, it was outstanding to have the energy transmitted from these students flood our school on a Saturday. The intensity of competition and camaraderie among the teams demonstrates the need for STEM funding throughout a student’s academic life. We would welcome this tournament back with open arms… and the robots were cool too!”
“It was great to see the thought and passion that the teams put into the competition,” said LA trustee Rob Nelson, who volunteered for the tournament on Saturday. “I think there are opportunities to take this kind of project-based learning and infuse it throughout the curriculum.”
”Lincoln Academy was well-represented on Saturday,” said LA Head of School David Sturdevant. “Congratulations to Maya [Crosby] and Sue [Levesque] and to all of the students on the Robotics Team, as well as all of the other students who volunteered. A job well done! A special shout out to Brie Wajer for acting as the emcee/announcer for the event. She provided an almost non-stop commentary on the more than 50 matches throughout the day.”
Lincoln Academy’s Associate Head for Advancement Matt Goetting visited the tournament and was impressed. “The robots were definitely cool, but what was even more impressive to me was the awesome display of hard work, collaboration and teamwork on Saturday. The fact that we were able to host an event of this caliber less than two years removed from the official launch of the program is a testament to the commitment and leadership of our students and and staff. It was a great day for Lincoln Academy.”
Will Lincoln host another robotics tournament? “Hosting a tournament and competing in a tournament are two very different skill sets. This year we learned how to host a tournament. It was hard but worth it. We’ll take what we learned, make improvements, and apply it to future tournaments,” said Levesque. “After we have some time to rest.”