NORTH EASTHAM — Make your way to a local gymnasium, ice rink or playing field and you’ll likely find a couple Cape Cod high school sports teams competing against each other.
The teams likely approach their competition with a fierce intensity, grit and determination: three qualities that are keys to success on scoreboards and in standings.
Over the course of four afternoons split across two weeks, high school students from Nauset, Monomoy, Falmouth and Dennis-Yarmouth met inside the Nauset Regional High School library for the Cape Cod VEX VRC Qualifying Invitational.
Although many of the participating students had competed against each other as rivals in sports, the robotics invitational sparked a different outlook rarely seen in sports.
“It’s such a nice group of kids and they really work well together,” said Lisa Orlandella, Nauset’s technology integration specialist and Business and Technology Department chair.
“If somebody is missing a battery, for example, someone from Falmouth will lend it to Nauset. Sometimes when you’re on the sports field it can get a little heated, but this is a very giving and caring environment.”
RobotEvents.com describes the VEX Robotics Competition as the largest and fastest-growing middle and high school robotics program in the world, with more than 20,000 robotics teams from 50 countries competing in over 1,700 competitions worldwide. This year’s game, Spin Up, required competitors to pick up and launch yellow foam discs into a goal.
Although robotics competitions are popular worldwide, they are still relatively new to the Lower Cape. Last year, Nauset hosted teams from Dennis-Yarmouth and Falmouth for the Cape Cod VEX Robotics League, a competition that sparked an interest at Monomoy, which made its invitational debut this winter.
“As we started doing the VEX robotics kits, we realized we really liked it,” said Monomoy technology teacher Larry Souza, who co-advised Monomoy’s robotics team with Rich Oldach, a technology and engineering teacher.
“We had a hard time getting it off the ground last year, but we figured this year, where there are local competitions, we would do VEX and check it out.”
Even though Dennis-Yarmouth defeated Nauset in the invitational semifinals to punch its ticket to the Southern New England Championships, the four days of competition still left Monomoy and Nauset students and teachers feeling optimistic about what is to come.
Nauset’s program has blossomed under the direction of Jackson Dalmau and Chris Barber, two seniors from Brewster who qualified for last year’s Southern New England Regionals.
That experience led Dalmau to launch Nauset’s robotics club as its founder and president, with Barber serving as his co-president.
“Last year, I joined to basically help get a program started,” said Dalmau. “It really brewed a love for doing this, and this year I tried to gain a bigger crowd.”
The impact at Nauset has been clear. This year’s club grew to 22 students and fielded five robotics teams at the invitational.
The numbers are smaller at Monomoy, where a group of about a half dozen worked on one robot.
Monomoy students and teachers have a shared excitement about the robotics program going forward, though, thanks in part to Thomas Chase, a freshman from Dennis who acts as Monomoy’s club president and team captain.
“It’s been fun to be able to come in and have an idea that a ton of people are passionate about and then build something that meets what we all want,” Chase said. “I think it’s cool to be able to work with a group of people that are interested in the same thing.”
Oldach said he’s been most impressed with the Monomoy students’ resiliency after their robot failed to move during the first day of the competition.
“They don’t let obstacles get in their way,” Oldach said.
With so many afterschool activities at their disposal, many of the robotics club members balance busy schedules that include band and sports practices. However, the long, busy days are worth it, Barber says, after watching a robot you built come to life.
“It feels so good to go from nothing to build something that can pick up flat discs and launch them,” Barber said. “It’s super relieving to watch it work.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org.