An Horry County Schools robotics team is headed to the FIRST Robotics world championship for the second consecutive year, building a winning tradition that would have been unheard of in the district a decade ago.
The team from Myrtle Beach’s Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology won the N.C. Regional event Saturday, earning a spot at the championship, which will be held in St. Louis April 23-26. This was AAST’s third time competing in Raleigh, N.C. The team had placed second in both of its previous appearances.
AAST follows the Academy for Technology and Academics in Conway, which went to the championship after winning last year’s Palmetto Regional FIRST Competition in Myrtle Beach.
Bucky Sellers, pre-engineering teacher at AAST, was a lone wolf when he started the district’s first robotics team in 2004 and spent five years taking the team’s robots to area businesses, schools and colleges to show what robotics has to offer. He said the futuristic ideas people associate with robots grabbed a lot of attention and has been key to generating support.
“[Ten years ago,] robotics in Horry County was nonexistent – no one did it, no one heard about it,” Sellers said, “but when you say ‘robot,’ there’s this science fiction, ‘Star Wars’ aspect that intrigues people, and that has really helped a lot, especially with the kids.”
The district’s two academies have pre-engineering programs, and ATA formed its team seven years ago. The district made a push three years ago to get robotics in all its schools, and now kids are competing from the elementary grades on up. All 12 of the district’s high schools had teams in this year’s Palmetto Regional, which Sellers helped bring to Myrtle Beach for the first time last year.
HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry said she is “ecstatic” about AAST’s win.
“We like to win in the Horry County Schools,” Elsberry said. “Our students learn so much science, technology, engineering and math from robotics. I wish them the best as they move on to the world competition.”
The St. Louis event will feature 400 teams from at least 25 countries, Sellers said, and teams will compete for three days. To make the trip, AAST will have to raise $25,000 to cover expenses, including the $4,000 registration fee and food, transportation and lodging for about 30 students, coaches and chaperones.
Sellers said it is a lot of money to raise, and the team will be seeking 25 sponsorships of $1,000 but welcome any individual donations.
“We certainly won’t be turning anything down,” said Sellers, who said a second championship trip for the district is important to the robotics program. “This means our dream’s coming true. … I got into this because I was very concerned we didn’t have offerings for our children that kids have in California, New York and other parts of the country. It doesn’t grab everyone, but I saw the potential – it challenges them and has changed some of the kids’ lives.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.