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From left, Tender Defenders teammates Hayden Carey, Evan McCleary and Will Bashaw prepare a computer-programmed Lego robot to race through their obstacle course. They are all from Jackson Middle School but the team is not affiliated with Wood County Schools. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)

PARKERSBURG — Two Wood County robotics teams have the chance to compete internationally, and both will be held in Texas.

The First Lego League Tender Defenders and a team from Wood County Christian High School both qualified for their events.

But first, they have to raise funds to make it happen.

The Tender Defenders won the 2020 West Virginia State Champions Award on March 2 and received the sole entry to the First Lego League World Festival in Houston from April 20-23.

“The Tender Defenders are a community-funded robotics team of 9 middle schoolers located in Parkersburg,” said group coach KC Doepker. “The group participates in the First Lego League® (FLL), a program designed to empower children (ages 9-14) to be young leaders and innovators.

A computer-programmed robot follows its programmed route. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)

“This is a wonderful program to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering, and math while having fun in a competitive team-building activity,” she says.

“Our team not only designs and programs a robot to solve missions, but is also responsible for researching and developing three presentations displaying FLL’s core values, an innovative solution that solves a problem in the community, and their strategic plan for robot design and play.”, said Doepker.

The Tender Defenders group is not involved with any schools and relies on public and corporate donations to fund travel to events.

The team is seeking $10,000 for the entire trip, with relatives and friends paying for themselves.

“I signed up because I really like robotics” said Will Bashaw, one of the team members.

A popular event when the Tender Defenders go out to give public demonstrations is to spin a lego top, which draws its power from the Lego pieces that spin the top. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)

“It’s my first year,” said Evan McCleary, another member of the team. “KC invited me to this group this year and I really like Lego and robotics, and I was really interested in robotics and decided to do it this year.”

Team members assembled the robots using Lego pieces and computer-programmed them to navigate an obstacle course by picking up various objects, carrying them, and dropping them off at various locations. They don’t use controllers.

The team members are:

* Will Bashaw, Grade 7

* Evan McCleary, 6th grade

From left, Tender Defenders teammates Will Bashaw, Evan McCleary and Hayden Carey stand with their 2020 West Virginia State Champions awards. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)

* Hayden Carey, 7th grade

* Parker Woods, 6th grade

* Bella Woods, 8th grade

* Kayley Kallka, 6th grade

* Jaylen Kaillc, Grade 7

One of Wood County Christian High School’s robots drops a goal on a seesaw. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)

* Brock Gillespie, Grade 7

* Lilly Pfeifer, 6th grade

All come from Jackson Middle School in Vienna.

The Wood County Christian High School team is involved in more advanced robotics and has received an offer to compete in the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas May 3-12.

Unlike Lego robots, VEX robots have controllers that are operated by team members, and they lead the robots around a course to pick up objects and drop them at certain locations, such as seesaws. The goal is to put objects of different colors in such a way that the ends of the swing do not touch the ground. Points are awarded for each task completed.

The robot continues to collect goals while meandering on the ground. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)

“Our school is delighted” said Patty Michael, co-trainer with husband Matt Michael, of the opportunity to compete. “Our families are delighted.”

Each round has two components, with the entire round being two minutes. The first part is an autonomous ride, where the robots run exclusively programmed and takes 15 seconds, and the second part is to drive the robot to complete tasks.

The team member responsible for programming the robots is Twila Reed. She is one of the team members who actually runs the robot.

Another team member, Jeremy Stoia, said: “We program all our computers to do certain things.”

Griffin Wharton, the group’s strategist, said: “I do a lot of strategy and while we’re competing against two other teams I’m with them and I talk about strategy, I tell them how much time is left and I communicate if we need more goals, if we are going to win and just a global strategy.

The team, which is in its second year of existence, is made up of:

*Catherine Michael

* Twila Reed

* Jeremy Stoia

* Griffin Wharton

* Noah Thompson

The team is trying to raise $18,000, including $12,000 for event registration, and is looking for sponsors to raise $6,000 for everything else.

Larry Launstein Jr can be reached at [email protected]

The members of Wood County Christian High School are, from left, Katherine Michael, Twila Reed, Jeremy Stoia, Griffin Wharton, Noah Thompson and their co-coach, Patty Michael. Not pictured is co-trainer and husband Matt Michael. (Photo by Larry Launstein Jr.)




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