Maricopa High School recently competed in a VEX Robotics event in Casa Grande and will host its own competition for the first time Dec. 12. Photo by Merry Grace

The Maricopa High School VEX Robotics Competition will debut Dec. 12.

Organizers hope it will become an annual event. They are also seeking volunteers

Lead organizer Robin Shoup, librarian at MHS, said the inaugural competition will be small, with about 20 teams participating.

Interest in robotics has been on a slow build in Maricopa Unified School District. With most of the elementary schools, a middle school and the high school, it has blossomed in the past year.

Competition VEX Robotics robot. Photo by Merry Grace
Competition VEX Robotics robot. Photo by Merry Grace

At the high school level, however, maintaining participation can be dicey. Many of the students have work or clubs or other extracurricular activities dividing their time. It has been the career possibilities associated with robotics that has solidified the VEX design system’s presence at MHS.

The new competition, Shoup said, gives a local venue to robotics and grows robotics even more in Maricopa. The event will be a state qualifier.

“I believe in robots and programming and all of that,” Shoup said. “The kids are enthused about it.”

The competition will be in the high school gym, 54012 W. Honeycutt Ave. Doors open at 7:30 a.m., when inspection starts. Judging begins at 9 a.m., pausing only for lunch, with awards at 5:30 p.m.

Maricopa High School students in competition in Casa Grande. Photo by Merry Grace
Maricopa High School students in competition in Casa Grande. Photo by Merry Grace

Besides Maricopa, there will be teams from Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center, Arcadia High School, Prescott High School, Desert Vista High School and others. The competition is sponsored by Maricopa Ak-Chin STEAM Foundation, the school’s engineering club and robotics club.

“I was looking for an overall project for my ‘Introduction to Engineering’ classes for this fall,” Career and Technical Education teacher Charles Miksch said. “I had attended a VEX Robotics competition in Prescott last spring and found both students and team sponsors found the robotics projects rewarding.”

MHS’s CTE department then purchased robots for 30 students in two Engineering 1 classes. Miksch said the classes held an internal competition to determine who would represent MHS at an official competition in Casa Grande on Nov. 14.

One MHS team placed fourth in the qualification round and finished second in the first championship round. Besides the engineering class, robot aficionados have a robotics club headed by MUSD teacher Tyler Jump for support in these kinds of events.

“Freshmen are not eligible to take the engineering classes, and with the groundswell of interest in robotics being generated at the elementary and junior high levels, I was glad to see Mr. Jump agree to lead the robotics club at MHS,” Miksch said.

Shoup said the aspects of technology problem solving fit in with the hands-on learning being promoted at MUSD. Students are responsible for reading game rules and creating a robot that meets the requirements.

At the Maricopa competition, students will vie in the VEX Robotics “Nothing but Net” game. The competition is supported by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation.

Rachael Burno, founder of the Ak-Chin STEAM Foundation, asked Shoup last year if she would organize the Maricopa competition.

Freshman Evan Grace works on a robot during competition. Photo by Merry Grace
Freshman Evan Grace works on a robot during competition. Photo by Merry Grace

“We are encouraging parents to get their kids more involved in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math],” Burno said. “A lot of hiring companies are seeing that employees versed in STEM are better employees.”

STEAM adds “A” for art to the mix.

Whatever field students are looking at as a career, from botany to athletics, involves the STEM field of study, she said.

That is why she would like to see parents and the whole Maricopa community supporting the event. Putting on a robotics competition takes a community effort.

“We need volunteers,” Shoup said. “It is all volunteer-run.”

Organizers need volunteers for judging and refereeing, running the information desk, coordinating, announcing, setting up/breaking down, cleaning up and feeding the other volunteers. Students can do some of that, but at least half need to be adults, she said.

520-568-8100, ext. 4147

This story appeared in the December issue of InMaricopa News.