By John R. Schirmer
Robots will take over Scrapper Arena Saturday, Feb. 2, but they won’t be saying “Danger, Will Robinson” or playing basketball with the Scrappers.
Instead, 17 junior high and high school teams will take part in the first regional robotics competition to be held in Nashville. The event is free and open to the public.
Seventeen teams will participate, according to Nashville Junior High School science teacher Brenda Galliher.
Competition will begin around 10 a.m., with lunch from 12-1. Finals will be held during the afternoon.
Arkansas schools will include Hope, Smackover, Camden, Hot Springs Lakeside and Nashville. There will also be teams from Redwater, Texas, and Tyler, Texas.
Three teams will come from Nashville Junior High, with four from Redwater.
The Robotics Education and Competition event is part of a worldwide network which works with robotics in education, industry and government, Galliher said. “We’re trying to increase robotics education.”
Nashville has received grants for robotics kits through REC.
The competition has received support from throughout the community, according to Galliher, including from Hagler State Farm, Nashville Family Dentistry, Walmart, Tyson and Coca-Cola. Husqvarna will provide one of the judges.
“I’m so appreciative of the community support,” Galliher said. “It’s been tremendous.”
Teams will include from two to six students, Galliher said. Two of the NJHS teams will have five students, with the third one having six.
The state “doesn’t officially recognize one specific platform,” Galliher said. Many of the schools, including Nashville, use VEX, which “has really taken off. It’s one of the fastest growing in the state.”
There are 406 VEX teams in Arkansas, Galliher said, compared to 59 during the 2014-15 academic year. “Arkansas is one of the fastest growing states in VEX. It’s affordable and supported by grants. It’s a good system.”
Galliher became interested in hosting a regional “when I looked at a map and there weren’t any in our area. We needed to get going in south Arkansas. Scrapper Arena is the best venue of any of the places I’ve been.”
Nashville students have competed at several locations, including Little Rock on Dec. 1 when one team qualified for the next level of competition. Galliher said she hopes the other two teams qualify as well.
“There are lots of ways to make state,” she said, including tournament championships and judged awards.
The public is invited to attend Saturday’s competition. Those who do will see “Battlebox with fire and destruction,” Galliher said.
The opening ceremony will begin around 9 a.m. with competition starting by 10. Times are a bit flexible because of the distance some teams have to travel.
By 1:30 or 2 p.m., Galliher said the event will be “starting the final qualifiers round.”
The game teams will play has “a lot of strategy. Teams decide where to focus their attention to maximize their points. It’s a great learning experience.”
Galliher has been working on the regional since August.
Her interest grew out of the school’s Science Club from 8-10 years ago and “morphed into this over time. A lot of kids are interested. There are a lot of valuable skills for students to gain,” Galliher said.
There is a reason to focus on robotics and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas, according to Galliher.
“I want Nashville to continue to be successful in getting engineering, scientific, technical jobs. We give kids the opportunity to do those jobs and become a prepared workforce.”
Fields such as robotics “give an opportunity to grow and benefit in the future,” Galliher said.