The Waiakea Intermediate School cafeteria was abuzz with the sounds of beeps, tires and treads Saturday afternoon as the finals of the 2017 Hawaii Community Foundation Think VEX IQ Hilo League got underway.
Nineteen teams from various schools and organizations competed for the right to represent Hawaii Island at the state championships Jan. 13-14 in Honolulu. When the dust settled, RoboJoeX of St. Joseph School, the Titans of Waiakea Intermediate School and the Mechaneers robotics teams had earned the trip to Oahu.
“Our kids are just over the moon right now,” said Christian Wong, coach of the Mechaneers. “This is their very first year competing and they’ve been working toward this goal since April. They’ve put in hours and hours of building, practicing and coding. Getting to states has been their driving motivation through it all.”
Unlike most of the teams that are school sponsored, the Mechaneers are a small home-based team. “We practice in my garage every week,” Wong said. “Our boys are really young and extremely energetic so it can get pretty loud. I’m pretty sure all my neighbors hate me.”
As the drama in WIS cafeteria unfolded, a similar scenario played out at the Keaau Elementary School cafeteria as the Keaau HCF Think VEX IQ League also wrapped up its finals. Perennial powerhouses PunaTechs and LunaTechs from Keaau Middle and Elementary schools took top honors, also earning a trip to states where all five East Hawaii teams will compete against 80 teams from throughout Hawaii to earn a spot in the world championships. Monday morning, the five East Hawaii teams earning a state berth also were invited to the U.S. National Championships in April in Iowa.
Wong credits the success of his first-year team to all the support the more established teams have provided within the community.
“Even though they’re young, these boys all came to the competition with a solid foundation in robotics,” Wong said. “They’ve all been to the Hilo Viking Robotics camps, all the workshops and classes put on by the PunaTechs. Those two teams do so much for the community in service and outreach, it’s what allows the younger generation teams like the Mechaneers to excel.”
Schools or organizations interested in starting a VEX IQ robotics team can contact league coordinator Art Kimura at firstname.lastname@example.org.