The auditorium and common spaces at Harrisonburg High School were abuzz with activity on Saturday for the First Tech Challenge Robotics competition.

It was the first event that was both in-person and with in-person judging since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, said Kaitlin Ilnitzki, the event manager and a program director at James Madison University.

“We’re very excited to be back,” Ilnitzki said.

The event was two days with 38 teams competing on Saturday and 35 teams competing on Sunday. Teams came from all across the state, Washington D.C. and Maryland.

Locally, the Harrisonburg High School STEM Academy was represented as well as Eastern Mennonite School. Each team was made up of about a dozen students and advisors.

Every year the First Tech Challenge comes up with a theme and a game for students to complete throughout the year, Ilnitzki said. Students then spend the school year building their robot to complete a task. This year the robots were tasked with picking up a cup and placing it on a short pole, among other things.

The competition pits two alliances — made up of two teams and a backup — against another alliance.

While teams are judged on robot performance, they are also judged on how much outreach they’ve completed in the community.

“Whether that’s passing along STEM skills to the younger generation, we’re more than robots,” Ilnitzki said. In fact, “More than Robots,” is the competition’s motto.

By having two teams compete together it encourages sportsmanship, problem solving and camaraderie.

There were about 100 people in attendance to watch the all-day competition on Saturday.

“We’re going to flip this and do it again tomorrow,” Ilnitzki said.

Contact Megan Williams at 574-6272 or Follow Megan on Twitter @Valley_Learn

(1) comment


A few years ago, I saw one of these competitions at my nephew’s HS in NC. Just amazing what some of those kids accomplished with clear creative minds!

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