The team of students from Bankhead Middle and Cordova High schools finished just outside the top 10 in the BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science & Technology) Robotics Competition held at Northwest-Shoals Community College earlier this month.
Blue Devil Robotics also received the Perseverance Award and earned the admiration of not only their sponsor, Amber Parsons, but one of the judges as well.
Rich Groch, a chief engineer for ATK Aerospace Structures, described the team as his favorite of the 18 that competed in BEST this year.
Groch noted in an email to one of the competition sponsors that the Blue Devils’ robot was simple and kept falling apart in initial attempts to complete its only task — to climb a pole and raise a flag.
“But on their third attempt, with duct tape holding the pieces together, they tripped the flag. When they came back into the pit, the feeling of accomplishment and the excitement in their eyes was very moving to me,” Groch wrote. “Their experience was everything the people who designed this competition could have wanted.”
Parsons, a science teacher at BMS, was equally impressed with the students’ effort.
“Their patience with each other and the way they kept working through the problems they were encountering was amazing,” Parsons said.
Blue Devil Robotics was formed this year following a push from Parsons, who in previous years has started a science Olympiad team and a technology team at BMS.
Approximately 30 students from 5th through 12th grades were selected for the team. The middle school students were required to get a teacher recommendation and write a paragraph describing how they felt that they could best serve the group.
Everyone who completed the assignment on time and followed directions became part of the team.
Parsons also made a point to include several special needs students.
“They have been very active, and that has been a great blessing to me and to them too. One day, I overheard one of them say, ‘Wow, I am smart at something,’” Parsons said.
High schoolers Steven Parsons, Blake Wiley and Savanna Woods were chosen as the CEO, president of production and director of marketing for Blue Devil Robotics.
Parsons said although she invited the older teens onto the team, she also feared that it would cause friction if the middle school students started feeling left out of their own club.
However, Parsons said the high school students did an excellent job of providing mentorship while allowing their younger team members to do much of the hands-on part of the project.
“I think that combination of age groups actually led to their success,” Parsons said.
The title of this year’s BEST competition was Warp XX. The team was given six weeks to use a box of materials provided to them to build a robot that could complete a variety of tasks in a game that simulated a space elevator.
“They have all learned a lot, and they are very excited about next year,” Parsons said.