FIRST Robotics regional competition to be held in Myrtle Beach

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJuly 24, 2012 

  • For more information Palmetto Partners | FIRST robotics |

Myrtle Beach Convention Center will be the site for next FIRST Robotics S.C. State Regional Competition set for next year, from Feb. 27 to March 2.

The event will bring more than 1,000 students to the Grand Strand – plus coaches, mentors and families – from around South Carolina, the Southeast and elsewhere along the east coast.

“It’s very big for the kids,” said Jack Moore, chairman of Palmetto Partners, the nonprofit group of S.C. business leaders who raise funds for the competition. “It’s a way to show the world that our kids are really bright and an opportunity for schools to showcase what they have.”

Moore said the event brings in about 45 teams from as far north as New Jersey, as far south as Florida and as far west as Kentucky. He said each team will bring between 20 and 45 people, and that Myrtle Beach was a logical venue because of what the area has to offer.

Horry County Schools has teams from the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology and the Academy for Technology and Academics that have been in competition for several years. Last September, Horry County school board member Karen McIlrath, District 2, and Bucky Sellers, pre-engineering teacher at AAST, launched efforts to bring together community partners to sponsor a FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, robotics team at each school.

“It is a great honor for Horry County Schools to be selected as the new host school district,” McIlrath said. “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase how talented our students are, as well as demonstrate the great programs offered through Horry County public schools.”

Four new teams were launched at Carolina Forest, Conway, Socastee and St. James high schools last year with support from HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry and Velna Allen, executive director for the district’s high schools. Along with the academy teams, the rookie teams competed at the North Charleston Regional in March, where Carolina Forest placed second overall.

FIRST is the largest organized competitive robotics program in the world. Teams are given a game and a kit, and students have six weeks to use their own ideas and designs to build a robot that can perform the tasks of the game. The competition – called “the varsity sport for the mind” – combines math, science and technology to build and program the robot, but a team also needs fundraising, branding and other skills to be successful, providing something for every student to contribute.

Professionals volunteer to mentor and guide each team, and support from the community is essential. McIlrath said the district’s new teams were established through grants from NASA, JCPenney and Santee Cooper, as well as donations from The Jackson Cos., John Sanders and the Grand Strand Technology Council.

Interest for more technical pursuits is growing among Horry County students. The district was overwhelmed with applications for the second year of its STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program, and younger students also are showing interest in robotics. This year’s district technology fair featured a new addition, the LEGO Robotics Challenge. Seventeen teams, including two from elementary schools, constructed and programmed their own robots.

“Mrs. McIlrath has championed this cause and has passionately sought and secured support from many individuals and organizations,” Elsberry said. “She has educated us all on the value of robotics in the curriculum and the role it can play in helping students learn 21st century skills.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at

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