Local robotics teams to compete in Hesperia tourney Saturday

"There's two free ports, so we're thinking about making all the arm motors separate motors," Ben Waddill said while brainstorming strategies to fix a power overload problem on a remote controlled robot's circuitry.

Ben Waddill isn't a scientist or engineer working on the base. He's an eighth-grader member of the Immanuel Christian School's robotics team. Instead of spending his evening solving for "X" in math homework, he was troubleshooting problems in electrical circuitry and gear torque on robots.

ICS's robotics team is in the final stages of preparation before a competition with the VEX Robotics Hesperia High School League in Hesperia on Saturday, Dec. 10. In total, one team from ICS and three teams from Burroughs High School — comprised of 18 students — will represent Ridgecrest at the competition.

Saturday's competition will be the second round of a total of three qualifying matches before the final elimination competition in Feb. 2017. The challenge involves a small ring with a fence in the middle. Teams try to get their robot to pass a plastic star over the fence more often than the opposing team, a little like a sci-fi form of tennis.

Each robotics tournament requires a different challenge, challenging students to solve new challenges. Previous competitions required robots to launch a ball into a hoop, stack cones, and so on.

Ridgecrest schools have fielded robotics teams for the last three years with the support of Robotics for STEM, an organization dedicated to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math to students through building robots. John Paul, or JP as students call him, leads Robotics for STEM.

"The neat part about this is giving the kids something that is going to shape their future," JP said.

JP, whose background is in technology, is also a pastor at Calvary Chapel and worked with the youth group years ago. During his time with the youth group, he talked to many kids who graduated from high school but lost hope because they didn't see a path to advance their life.

He continued, "Most of the principles they are learning actually have real time application in the real world."

JP volunteers his time for the program, as do many volunteers who come out from Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division. He hopes the program can help students to excel in STEM subjects, but also hopes it offer students a vision of a promising future.

"We're guiding them into a career path that is feasible so they don't have to be dependent on their parents and they don't have to work too hard to find the money to go off to college," JP said.

The ICS middle school robotics team 7496S, which eighth-grader Waddill is a member of, has already qualified for the state championship based on their victory at the Lancaster VexJets tournament. The high school teams competing this Saturday will be looking to qualify as well. Qualifying or not, they're looking to have a bright future.