(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
Becky Soper, an instructor at Harris Middle School. had a vision for a new robotics team -- one that focuses on academics over athletics.
The Harris robotics team will be participating in the BEST, Inc. robotics competition this year. The acronym stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.
In a few weeks the team, Bedford County's first, will face off against 19 teams of middle and high school competitors from as far away as Indiana in the event at Lipscomb University.
The concept was introduced last year when members from Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro gave a presentation and robot demonstration at Harris. CMS offered to mentor Harris for the 2012 competition.
On behalf of Nissan, local resident Joe Welgan offered to assist Harris in establishing its inaugural team. Nissan has been a major supporter of the Lipscomb competition for 20 years.
Soper has been involved as a parent-mentor with a similar program in the past.
"I have seen first-hand the positive impact it has. I knew this was a unique opportunity for our students," Soper said.
The robotics team began an intense, six-week long season in early September, when students, teachers and parents attended workshops and lectures at Lipscomb. Each team was given identical kits and materials with which to build a robot.
"The students, parents and teachers are all eager and excited to be a part of this program," Soper said.
The group has grown to include seven coaches, 45 active student members, 20 spirit team students and several active parent mentors.
The theme this year, Warp XX, involves space elevators.
Robots must climb a 10-foot pole and bring items representing fuel bottles, waste cargo, solar panels, a habitation module, a T-structure, and a summit flag to a "midway station."
The robot will travel from "Earth" to the 'midway station,' accomplishing as many tasks as possible -- all in three minutes. Points are awarded according to the difficulty of the task, and students must strategize together to maximize their scores.
The team will also compete by presenting an oral report to the judges, building an 8'x8' booth as headquarters, writing an engineering project notebook and creating CAD drawings. They must also display digital and/or print documentation of their season.
The team will be judged on spirit and sportsmanship, which includes a sign-carrying pep squad to cheer them on.
"As a first-year team, Harris Robotics is starting from scratch. We are reaching out to our community for support," said Soper.
Although there is no cost to enter the competition and the robotic kit is provided free, the team has expenses for other areas of the competition. Students have been visiting local businesses and seeking corporate sponsorships.
"We know that we have a spectacular group of students and adults working together to make this a successful program at Harris," Soper said.
Launch day is Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Lipscomb's Allen Arena, with an awards ceremony to follow. The event is free and open to the public.
"Harris Robotics Team welcomes our entire community to come cheer our team on," Soper said.
For more information, go to www.bestinc.org. To volunteer as a mentor or sponsor, contact Becky Soper at (931) 684-5195, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sponsorship forms are available in the school office and on the school website.