The biggest moment in the history of the fledgling robotics program at Commerce High School came late last month as the robotics team won a major competition, and in doing so qualified for the national championship.
The “Commerce Tigers in Motion” robotics team took home the 1st-place prize from the South Early College High School Vex Robotics Tower Takeover Competition, which was held in Houston on Dec. 21. At the competition, the Tigers entered three separate “teams” of robots in the competition, competing with roughly 30 other teams from across the state.
CHS robotics teacher Earvin Larry explained how the competition works in a phone call with the Commerce Journal. Larry says that the main goal for the teams is to build a robot that can stack cubes into a tower at different spots of a predetermined area to earn points. Each robot has a driver and two spotters on the floor competing, but a host of students that helped build the robot act as support staff and a sort of pit crew during the event.
There is a qualification round and then an elimination round, and for each round, the teams are paired up with another team, making each match a two-versus-two affair.
One of the Tigers’ robots finished in first place in the qualifying round, earning a “bye” from the first round of eliminations. Another CHS robot finished third and also advanced. The third robot did not advance.
The lead robot piloted by Holton Pemberton, named the “Clawbot Master” and also known as “Mr. Bean,” was able to choose a partner by virtue of winning qualifiers. Commerce paired up with a team from Austin, and the Tigers in Motion scored enough points to become tournament champions.
Pemberton told the Commerce Journal that the choice to pair up with the Austin team played to both team’s strengths.
“Our robot can extend its width and is great at playing defense, keeping other robots from grabbing cubes to stack,” Pemberton said. “The other team was better at stacking, so we went well together.”
Pemberton, a senior, has been on the CHS robotics team for three years of its short four-year existence. He says that while the team was confident going into the competition, it was still a shock to win it all.
“It was really amazing to get the win,” Pemberton said. “We have worked hard since the summer and it paid off.”
And pay off it did. With the victory, the Tigers in Motion now qualify for the CREATE U.S. Open Robotics Championship, scheduled for April 2 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This will be the biggest competition ever for the program.
Larry said that he is amazed to see how far the team has come.
“I am almost speechless,” Larry said. “This program came from very humble beginnings, but there is tremendous talent at our school. These kids can compete with anybody.”
Larry also wanted to thank CHS Principal Steve Drummond for his “undying support” of the robotics program through funding and promotion.
“He has always been there to support these kids,” Larry said.