PHS robotics team advances

Alisa Boswell

Three Portales High School seniors argued back and forth Thursday afternoon as they huddled over pieces of a robot in their teacher’s workshop, debating over how certain parts should be put together.

Tim Varela, Russell Van Dam and Joseph Lundy are three of the 11 high school students, who recently won second place at the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics New Mexico State Competition in Las Cruces on Oct. 22, beating 23 other New Mexico robotics teams.

“Once we qualified at the state level, New Mexico and Texas hold a regional competition in Garland, Texas,” said the group’s adviser and PHS science teacher Jack Willis.

After receiving marks from the judges at state level, the students are now once again reworking their project to make it even better for the regional competition, which will be held Nov. 18 and 19 and will have the Portales High team, BioCapture, competing against what, Willis estimates, will be hundreds of teams.

“It’s focused on the robot but the function of the robot isn’t the most important thing,” Van Dam said of the competition. “You have to show how you built it and your plans for it. A lot of work goes into it and the robot has to be operational.”

Willis said the main focus of the competition is campaigning. Students have to be able to sell the idea of their company and their robot.

He said this was the Portales team’s second year in the competition and the first year didn’t go nearly as well.

“We found out quickly this is a team competition and it has to be a big team, because there are so many areas to cover,” said Willis, who only took three teens to the event last year.

Willis said each team is given supplies for their robot by New Mexico BEST then has six weeks to prepare for the event.

He said his team spent the six weeks last year strictly focusing on the function of the robot, because they thought this was the competition’s focus.

“We made it to the last round of the semi-finals and our robot’s wheels came off and it fell apart,” Willis said, laughing. “It was an appropriate ending to our day.”

The team said despite not making it to finals last year, judges gave them the Blood, Sweat and Duct Tape Award for all their efforts.

Willis and Van Dam both said after studying the competition last year and putting in a lot of effort this year, their efforts paid off.

They said they feel confident they will do well at the regional competition.

“We were shooting for second place,” Van Dam said of state. “We’ve got a good shot. We’re more prepared. We know how to do things.”

BioCapture members said they are tired but feeling confident.

“What these guys miss out on in school next week, they’ll have to make up,” Willis said. “Even though we didn’t do that well last year, we had a lot of fun with it.”

“It’s a lot of work but that’s what makes it so nice,” Lundy said. “If you win, your work pays off.”