Thorsby High School junior Austin Liveoak, left, and Jemison High School junior Dakota Harris operate the robot they constructed and won their competition with while at the 2013 Technology Student Association State Conference at the University of Alabama earlier this month.
Thorsby High School junior Austin Liveoak, left, and Jemison High School junior Dakota Harris operate the robot they constructed and won their competition with while at the 2013 Technology Student Association State Conference at the University of Alabama earlier this month.

Archived Story

Robotics teams earn state awards

Published 7:06pm Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Robotics teams from Chilton County left their mark at Alabama’s 2013 Technology Student Association State Conference in March and brought home two new awards for their steadily growing collection.

The teams comprised of 11 students from Clanton, Isabella, Thorsby and Jemison schools won first place and third place awards at the event, which was held March 12–13 at the University of Alabama’s Bryant Conference Center.

The first-place team now has an opportunity to represent the state at the national robotics tournament in Orlando, Fla., June 29–July 2.

“We knew robotics and we knew aeronautics,” said Jay LeCroy, an instructor in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program at LeCroy Career Technical Center. “We didn’t know what else we were getting into. We didn’t anticipate winning a first place. It’s the biggest win we’ve ever had in the county.”

LeCroy said only four students from the county will compete at the national level this summer.

“The level of competition is very strong at these events,” he said. “You’re competing against some of the best and brightest in the state.”

LeCroy said theoretically every student in the robotics class at the career tech center could compete, but he and instructor Jason Sosa hold in-house competitions each time to determine the top students who will go.

The four students going to nationals are juniors Dakota Harris and Austin Liveoak, and senior Zack Hensley and alternate C.J. LeCroy filling in for senior Cain Castleberry.

“We’ve got a lot to work on,” Harris said. “In the national level, everybody steps up, so that’s something we have to do.”

LeCroy said he and Sosa log many hours helping and supervising the students as they build their robots, practice maneuvers in the on-site arena and run through sequences as many times as necessary until they are correct.

The competitions provide a broader stage for students to learn and practice real-world problem solving, physics, engineering and computer science.

The last major win for local robotics students came last year before Christmas.

A robot that students built earned third place for best-looking design in the South’s Best Robotics Competition held Nov. 30–Dec. 2 at Auburn University.

The team, comprised of 39 high school students from Clanton, Isabella, Maplesville and Thorsby, was among the top 60 robotics teams in the eastern United States competing and finished 30th overall.

However, the robotics team’s success has not come without a price.

LeCroy said additional funding for trips to such competitions is scarce, leaving instructors and parents scrambling to hold fundraisers or simply pay out-of-pocket for the students’ trip expenses, which can total more than $100 each.

“We’ve discovered that winning brings more issues,” LeCroy said. “It’s obvious that we’re going to have to do something.”

In an effort to cull support and funding for the team, LeCroy, Sosa and others connected with the program are creating a student-led organization called Central Alabama Science Technology and Engineering Society.

LeCroy said the organization is seeking adult advisors from the community who would assist with planning and raising money for robotics events and competitions.

The organization would also give current robotics students as well as younger students interested in robotics and the STEM program opportunities to attend lectures by college professors in science, engineering, physics and other related fields.

“I want the students to take over leadership roles of it because this is becoming huge,” LeCroy said.

Anyone interested in becoming involved with the organization should contact Jay LeCroy at LeCroy Career Technical Center at (205) 280-2920.

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