Approximately 30 elementary and middle school teams traveled to Vermillion last weekend for a robotics tournament. It was the first tournament hosted by the non-profit youth organization ROV (Robotics of Vermillion).
“We had 19 middle school division teams and ten elementary school division teams,” said LD Herrera, executive director and coach for ROV. “This was our first time hosting a tournament. We enforced mask wearing and promoted social distancing. While there were some technical difficulties, with nearly 40 volunteers, we were able to work through our problems and provide a good event. Our thanks goes out to ROV, Harrisburg, Good Shepherd Lutheran School of Sioux Falls, and Junior Jackets of Council Bluffs families who helped us with the event. We also thank the Vermillion School Board and VHS Booster Club for supporting our efforts.”
Like with most youth organizations, it’s been a rough year due to COVID-19. The robotics season, which runs September to February (and sometimes into April), usually features six to eight tournaments with lots of hands-on learning and doing.
“Last year, our season was called off early as the US Open and World Championships were cancelled,” said Herrera. “This year, the coronavirus has continued to bring challenges. Participants, parents, and coaches wear masks at all sessions. Only two teams meet at a time, and they are kept distant from each other. We run a set of HEPA air filters that exchange and clean the air approximately 4 times per hour. At the end of each day, we use a fogger in all areas with an EPA certified antiviral botanical product. Our families have been great about taking time off from robotics while they self-quarantine due to close contact, symptoms, or confirmed coronavirus infections.”
This year, robotics teams will be lucky if they are able to attend three tournaments.
“Teams in other states have far fewer opportunities,” said Herrera. “We have regular tournaments scheduled in Council Bluffs on Dec. 12 and Harrisburg on Dec. 19 and the SD State tournament in February. The Council Bluffs tournament may be canceled due to recent COVID regulations issued by the Iowa Governor.”
This past weekend’s tournament was dominated by wins by the Junior Jackets, a robotics club out of Council Bluffs. Teams from Vermillion did walk away with some awards. One of ROV’s elementary teams, 57069T Turtles, which is made up of fourth and fifth graders, won both the teamwork championship and the robot skills award (in a division that included youth through seventh grade). Meanwhile, Queen Bs, a robotics team from the Vermillion Area Robotics Association (VARE) was awarded a Judges award, second place in skills, and third place in teamwork.
No matter how they ultimately did in the competition, the youth who participated were happy to be competing once again.
“Regardless of success, the competitive environment of the tournament helps drive our participants to put their minds into future development and increase the performance of their robots,” Herrera said. “In times like these, challenges and excitement are beneficial to young minds. That is the heart of our program.”