Escorted by local law enforcement, Wrens Middle School Junior Beta members pulled into a crowded school parking lot last week with the song “We are the Champions” blasting over PA speakers.
It was the right song given that the school’s Junior Beta Robotics team had been named Division II National Champions during the 21st Annual Jr. Beta Club Convention in Orlando. Organizers called it the largest Beta Club convention in history, with just under 13,000 student attendees representing 1,050 clubs from across the U.S..
When the school’s name was called out as the winners the students jumped out of their seats.
“They were ecstatic,” club sponsor Michelle Stewart said. “They cheered and hugged one another. It was a special moment.”
Last fall the school took home two first place awards at the state convention, one in robotics and another in the Tower of Power engineering challenge, as well as a fourth place in speech.
“Students had to create a robot that had a function prior to the convention, decide on a team name, and give their robot a name,” Stewart said.
It was the first time the robotics competition was held at the state junior Beta convention. When the group of Wrens middle students showed interest in it, Tracey Rowland, another teacher and Beta sponsor, tapped her husband, Gil Rowland, who works at KaMin, a Wrens kaolin plant, to help the group of boys. He then asked fellow KaMin engineer Elton Seton to assist.
With their help, the team consisting of Burton Arnold, Cayden Arrington, Evan Gibbons, Jacob Newman, Jason Templeton, Bryar Stewart, Nate Williford and Yu Zhang became the Blue Squad and designed and built C-4, a custom robot that can open a standard Coke can, pour the drink from it and then crush the can.
“All the other schools had bought kits and made a robot based on the instructions in the kit,” Roland said of the state level of the competition. “Our students bought materials and went from the ground up.”
Stewart said that the Wrens team worked afternoons and built every part of the robot themselves except for the little bit of welding that was required.
At the national convention, Stewart said that there were just two robots that were not kit built.
“The judges were pleased with how the kids answered their questions about the robot,” Stewart said. “They were also impressed with the modifications that had to be made to meet all of the rules. They liked how they improvised and still made it work.”
Jefferson County School System superintendent Molly Howard was there in the parking lot when the students returned last week, along with about 150 other parents, teachers and community members to celebrate the victory.
“This means there is nothing we can’t do in Jefferson County that can be done in any larger school or larger community anywhere in the country,” Howard said. “Our kids and our teachers are just as prepared for this high level of competition as anybody. It should give great confidence to these children and their sponsors and teachers for what they have accomplished.
“Our kids saw something that was interesting to them, that was challenging, and they accepted the challenge.”