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ALACHUA COUNTY – For two days, robots took over the gym at Gainesville's Lincoln Middle School, as over 90 student teams competed to represent the Alachua County School District in statewide competitions.

The Second Annual VEX Robotics Competition featured more than 350 elementary-, middle- and high-school students demonstrating their skills at developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks against other student teams.

One by one, the teams were eliminated, with the final winning teams moving to state wide competitions. Winners from the statewide competition will then move on to the VEX World Robotics Competition, located in Louisville, Kentucky this coming spring.

The event, which is opened to all students from Alachua County Public Schools, is sponsored locally by Infinite Energy, which has pledged $10,000 per year for five years to fund robotics competitions and help students interested in science, engineering and computer studies bring their studies to a practical use.

According to Mark Lynch, the Robotics coordinator for the Alachua County school system, the competition gives students an opportunity to participate and interact with other students with similar, interests. “The program blends competition and academic interests, sort of a mixture of a sporting event with science. It gives them [students] a diversity of technical disciplines from programming and design to the actual building of a working robot. This takes lessons from the classroom and gives it a physical practical use,” Lynch said. “It gives them a chance to participate with students from other schools in real world projects and achieve success.”

Alachua County students from 22 elementary schools, 10 middle schools and six high schools participated in the two-day event with teams of four to six students working together in each team. Many of the schools had several teams competing, with Lincoln Middle School fielding the most at seven. Although the majority of the Alachua County Schools were from Gainesville, the outlying communities also were represented. Students from Alachua were represented by Alachua Elementary and Mebane Middle School. Newberry was represented by students from Oak View Middle School and Newberry High School. Hawthorne had students from Shell Elementary and Hawthorne Middle /High School. Students from Archer Elementary and High Springs Community School were present for their communities.

Although the event is only in its second year, the expansion of robotics programs in the schools has made it necessary to add a second day to the competition. Due to the popularity of last year's event, organizers opened it this year to competitors from other north Florida communities. Teams from Apopka, Leesburg, Marianna, Saint Patrick’s School, Jacksonville and Trinity High School, Ocala, joined in the fun.

Each team built a robot to perform a specific task against another team in their own school classification. Elementary schools competed on Wednesday, Dec. 7, with plastic robots and middle and high schools competed on Thursday, Dec. 8, with both plastic and metal robots. The teams played against each other with the winner moving into the next round.

The game competition featured robots with a lifting arm, playing a game called “Starstruck.” Team robots had to pick up objects and deposit them over a barrier into the other team’s territory within a set time period. The team that had the least objects in their territory when the timer rang was the winner and was able to move on to the next round.

At the end of the competition an awards ceremony was held for the teams that will now advance to the State Finals.

Two teams that won top honor for excellence were C.W. Norton Elementary School and Lincoln Middle School, Gainesville.

Other award winners in the Elementary School Category were Lawton M. Chiles, Meadowbrook and J.J. Finley Elementary Schools. In the Middle School Category, Kanapaha and Westwood Middle Schools received awards.

Top honors in the high school category went to Trinity, an out of district school from Ocala. All these teams will advance to the state finals in Tampa on Feb. 17 – 18, 2017.

VEX Robotics World Championship will be held in mid-April 2017 and will include top teams from events happening in cities around the world during the June 2016 - March 2017 time period.

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