Halls High Robotics wins big at Bluegrass

Shannon CareyHalls

An off-season tournament win Nov. 4 may signal great things ahead for the Halls High School robotics team. Known as Red Nation Robotics, the team traveled to Corbin, Kentucky, for the Battle for the Bluegrass and came home champions.

What’s more, Red Nation’s safety team leader, Christian Latham, said Red Nation went toe-to-toe against 30 teams, including local powerhouse teams from  Oak Ridge High, L&N STEM Academy and Farragut High, the school which won the 2017 Smoky Mountain Regional Tournament last spring.

“We bested all three of those big teams and won for the first time in several years,” said Latham.

The team last won the regional tournament in 2013 and made the semifinals in 2014.

If you think high school robotics is just tinkering and driving a remote control gadget, you’re not even in the right ballpark. The students in Red Nation Robotics design, build and program robots that complete specific tasks that change from season to season. At the Bluegrass tournament, their robot had to hang gears, pick up balls and place them in a “boiler,” climb a five-foot rope and trigger a light.

On top of that, the team has to run like a business, with a business team working budgets and expenses, and a marketing team doing outreach, fundraising and courting sponsors. All students on the team put in a lot of time and effort, which doesn’t stop in the off-season.

“This would be a time crunch if it was an actual job, and these students are doing it in extracurricular time,” said teacher mentor Everett Morgan. “During the build season, it’s not uncommon for students to bring their lunch (to the lab) and just nibble during lunch break. Every second counts.”

Morgan hopes the win in Kentucky will help grow the team’s confidence, both in robotics competition and in their future careers. Marketing team leader Carley Baldwin said she’s learning real-world skills, and build team leader Adam Schoolfield said he likes working on such a large project and seeing it come to life.

Morgan said it’s important to him that students do the work with minimal help from parents, so Red Nation Robotics doesn’t become “a playground for engineers, but a proving ground for young engineers.”

“We take a lot of pride in what we do, but these students know that what they’re up to is important,” he said.

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