The Blackout Robotics team won the VEX Robotics state championship for the second year in a row.
When most teenagers spend the night at a friend’s house, they stay up all night playing video games or watching movies. But when one group of Suncoast Polytechnical High School students stay up late, they are working on competition-ready robots.
“We spend almost every Saturday at my house working,” Cannon Spencer said. “Sometimes we are programming, sometimes we’re building or tweaking the robot all throughout the night just to prepare for competition.”
That dedication has paid off. For the second year in a row students from Suncoast Polytechnical High School won the VEX Robotics state championship.
VEX Robotics is company focused on fostering children through STEM education. Each year, it hosts a variety of competitions at the regional, state and national levels.
Around 95% of students who compete in VEX tournaments report an increased interest in pursuing STEM-related careers.
Suncoast’s Blackout Robotics team, made up this year of students Armand Segui, Rafael Treminio Bravo, Quinn Coomer, Spencer and Seth Johnson, won its second national title in a row. The win qualifies them to participate in the world championships.
“This year was stressful because during our last match, one of our parts fell,” Johnson said. “So we ended up playing a lot of defense. We still won by a few points but it was very, very stressful. So it felt really good to win.”
But these students are used to winning. All of them have had an interest in robotics from a young age.
Since middle school, the students have been competing in VEX tournaments, amassing more than 60 awards throughout the years.
“I believe our interest really kicked off in seventh grade when we won ‘Excellent’ and got into Worlds,” Treminio Bravo said. “That experience of seeing people from all over the world who have this passion, really kicked off our interest in robotics competition.”
Each year, VEX releases details for a game that highlights specific functions of a robot. Competitors then design their robots from scratch. VEX provides materials, but everything else is up to the students.
This year, the team started building the robot in August. They brainstormed, sketched, designed, built and programmed their robot for a game loosely based on Tic-Tac-Toe where competitors score colored balls in rows.
The team had until October to complete its first iteration of the robot for competition. Throughout the season, they added improvements.
“One of the great things about VEX is that after your tournament’s over, you can go ahead and take a bigger picture look and think, ‘OK, what do I need to do to improve to meet other people’s standards,’” Coomer said.
Each student has a particular role during competitions. Johnson and Treminio Bravo take care of any tweaks that the robot need. Coomer and Spencer are part of the drive team that gives information to Segui, who drives the robot.
Segui said driving is often a stressful job because he doesn’t want to let his teammates down.
“He won’t admit it, but he’s probably one of the best drivers in Florida,” Spencer said. “You watch other drivers with slower robots struggling to make goals, but he has one of the fastest robots and he can control it.”
Suncoast Principal Jack Turgeon said the team’s back-to-back wins highlight the school’s thriving engineering program, but even more inspiring are the students' attitudes.
“What is so impressive is who these young men are,” Turgeon said. “They’re great academic students, high-character kids who work collaboratively as a team to achieve at such a high level. It really is amazing what they have accomplished.”
The team is now looking forward to the World Championships, which this year will be held online from May 17-22.
The team, which is largely comprised of juniors, plans to compete again next year.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.