Clairton High School team needs funds to go to national robotics competition

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The Clairton High School robotics team put in countless hours to design the fighting robots that were crowned the grand champions of the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ Regional Competition last month at California University of Pennsylvania.

Since then, the team has been hard at work again, but this time on two tasks: the first, repairing and upgrading their robots; the second, raising enough money to attend the national robotics competition in Indianapolis next weekend.

While other schools districts may be able to cover the cost of sending their high school teams to the competition, Clairton, one of the region's smallest districts with about 780 students, and one of its poorest, cannot afford to pay the $4,000 minimum cost for the five students, the teacher sponsor and a chaperone to travel to Indianapolis for the competition. Ideally, the students are hoping to raise an additional $1,000 to purchase spare parts for their fighting robots, which like race cars, require replacement parts to be used during competitions.

So far, they've raised $1,400 by holding a Penguins ticket raffle, sponsoring an after-school robotics program and sending out solicitation letters. But they need to come up with the remainder before Friday night, when they are scheduled to leave for the national competition.

District officials have said they would help with the costs if the students are able to raise the majority on their own, but can't afford to provide several thousand dollars.

"It's a little bit disheartening that some schools have all sorts of resources available to them and we have to work for it. But in another way, it's a good thing because in life you have to work for things," said Amanda Gillespie, 18, a senior and robotics team member.

About 55 teams are entered in the national competition, most from high schools, but some colleges are expected as well. That's about the same number of teams that participated in the regional competition.

The student teams create ankle-high robots that fight with weapons in a gladiator-style ring.

To create the robots, the students use math, science and engineering skills and meet with industrial partners to learn about their processes and the skills needed for jobs in the workplace. The Clairton team's industrial partners are Ace Wire Spring & Form Co. in McKees Rocks and Vangura Tool Co. in Clairton. Both have provided some financial support.

The team faculty sponsor, Dennis Beard, an industrial arts teacher, said a van has been booked to drive the students to Indianapolis overnight Friday and arrive Saturday morning. The group plans to leave immediately after the prom on Friday night, which several team members will be attending.

Plans call for them to compete on Saturday and Sunday and return home Sunday night.

In addition to booking the van and a hotel, Mr. Beard said, he has spent about $380 of his own money on replacement parts.

"Some schools go with a dozen motors and gear boxes. We are trying to make sure that we have at least one spare for each. I don't want to look poor. I want to give our kids the opportunity that everyone else has when we go down there. I want to show them that just because we come from a smaller district we can still do the same things the big ones are doing."

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Mary Niederberger: or 412-263-1590. First Published May 11, 2013 4:00 AM


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