BELDING — On Saturday, dozens of students will converge upon the Redskin Arena gymnasium in Belding, but it won’t be for a volleyball or basketball game.
Rather, students from throughout the state will be competing at the second annual Belding Robotics Tournament at Belding High School, hosted by Belding’s very own robotics program.
The robots, built and operated by students, will be clashing, clawing and maneuvering their way throughout the tournament with a goal to win and earn a bid to the state tournament at Michigan State University on Feb. 24.
The Belding program has already witness success this school year after earning its spot at the state tournament by winning both the West Michigan VEX League and tournament in Grandville.
But don’t assume that doesn’t mean the Belding students don’t plan to win their own home tournament for the second straight year.
“We’re definitely trying to win like we did last year,” said sophomore Jessie Boyd, 15. “There are more obstacles than last year. It’s more challenging.”
The Belding robotics program, consisting of seven students who operate three teams, is sponsored by Stahlin Non-Metallic Enclosures in Belding with parts ordered through VEX Components. Students design and build the robot themselves to compete in several tournaments throughout the year.
This year’s game, titled “Toss Up,” involves scoring different sized balls by placing them in key locations throughout a 12-by-12-foot arena with their robots. Each team consists of an alliance of two robots which compete against an opposing alliance, which leaves four robots in the arena at once battling it out for the win in a two-minute match.
During the first 15 seconds of the match, in what is called the “autonomous” period, the robots are released without any control from the students. Using a preprogrammed path, the robots work on their own to score points for their team.
Once that period is completed, the arena is resent and the students take over direct control of their robots with a wireless remote control for a period of 1:45.
What ensues is a suspenseful, competitive match that often comes down to the final seconds.
More often than not, one Belding team will choose the second Belding team as its alliance member, as opposed to choosing a team from another school.
It’s a strategy that has helped both teams qualify for the state tournament.
“It’s knock and block,” Belding robotics coach Tom Daller said. “With two decent robots, you kind of take turns scoring.”
For Belding, the home tournament takes on much more importance for the high school students.
Though the students have already qualified for the state tournament and don’t need to win to advance any further, the chance to win in front of a home crowd is as important as ever.
“There’s people in this building that don’t even know what we do,” Daller said. “People in the community don’t really understand, they don’t really know what ‘robotics’ means. It’s very strategic, more so than most sports.”
For Boyd and her fellow classmates, it’s a chance to shine in the spotlight when they are used to hiding in the shadows.
“Knowing that our community actually notices us, instead of seeming like we’re hiding in the corner, it makes me happy,” Boyd said. “You feel important, like it’s track or football or something. We had a lot of support last year and it gave us a lot of confidence.”
Being a part of the robotics team is something Boyd said has helped her to keep focused and want to achieve higher goals.
“It gives me something to do after school,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about logic skills, and how the games are played. Learning how to score faster without losing time, avoid being pinned by other robots. … just building things in general. Robotics is interesting, it’s unique and you don’t see many schools doing it. I get to build something and then play with it.”
The tournament begins with the opening ceremony and qualifying rounds at 9 a.m. Saturday, with competitive play beginning at 1 p.m.
There is no cost to attend the tournament.
“We’ve got some work to do, it’s going to be a busy, busy week,” Daller said. “All the time the students have put into this, they go from August to May, we definitely want to win. We invite our town to come out and support us.”