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Wheat Students Receive Judges Choice Award at Robotics Competition

                Wheat Middle School robotics team members Josiah Olivares and Eliel Cruz stood out among 33 teams competing at the FIRST Tech Challenge, in being presented with the Judges Choice Award.

                This was the third year for Wheat and Smith Middle Schools to be among the participants at the STEM-focused competition, which engages students in learning to think like engineers in designing, building, coding and operating robots. At the FIRST Tech Challenge event held January 21, teams faced off in a series of matches, with the goal of successfully maneuvering their robots through courses and tasks. Participants were judged on their skills, innovation and teamwork, along with their documentation of the process they used in preparing for the contest.  

                The Judges Choice Award received by the Wheat eighth graders honors a team whose outstanding efforts, performance or dynamics merit recognition. Olivares and Cruz are among six members on their school’s advanced robotics team. However, they were a team of two at the competition due to schedule conflicts which prevented their fellow members from attending.

                 “I’m not the programmer on the team,” Olivares said. “I had to figure that out on the bus ride to the contest. I got some help from the Smith team. I programmed the Teleop controller while Eliel worked on adjustments to our robot. He stayed late at school the night before because one of its arms wasn’t working that well.”

                Challenges faced by the Wheat team also included a chain coming off one of the robot’s wheels during a match. But that didn’t faze them, according to their robotics teacher and team sponsor, Gwenda Davis.

                 “I think their composure and perseverance under pressure and their knowledge and understanding in presenting and discussing their documentation notebook really impressed the judges,” Davis said. “They held their own in the matches, going up against full teams of competitors. There were five panels of judges who saw every team in action throughout the day and, together, they chose to give this award, which is optional, to our team.”

                “I didn’t know that this award would be presented, but I wasn’t surprised Eliel and Josiah were chosen,” Davis said. “I know their quality of work. I’m proud of them and am also proud of the support they received from the Smith team. Gracious professionalism is a term used in this competition, in which you help a competitor even if it will help them win or finish ahead of your team. That is what they received from their fellow Yellow Jackets from Smith Middle School.”

Whether everyone reports for duty, or they compete as an army of two, the eighth graders agree they enjoy being on the robotics team—both also compete for Wheat in basketball--and plan to continue their study of robotics in high school.

“I just like robotics,” Olivares said. “It’s fun and you get to learn a lot of new stuff. It’s also challenging. This was my second robotics competition and I liked it better than the one I went to in seventh grade. There were lots of people there and some of the events were timed, which made us work faster. Pressure doesn’t bother me—I’m pretty determined.”

                “I just wanted to see what robotics was all about when I took it in seventh grade,” Cruz said. “I decided to take it a step farther in taking advanced robotics this year. I like being on the team. Everyone knows something, has a special job and helps others. I’m always thinking about new ways to complete the task and like learning how to adapt to new things.”

                “There were a lot of awards at the contest,” Cruz said. “We didn’t think we would get one—we just wanted to be there and compete. I think ours is for hard work, doing your best and overcoming challenges. That’s what we did.”