GROVE CITY – The Physical Learning Center arena at Grove City College was so loud on Saturday that organizers handed out earplugs.
But it wasn’t a sporting event. It was the annual BEST Robotics competition, and the crowd went wild as 15 teams of students took the floor with their creations.
“Team Red has the pipes in the air,” announcer David Valentine declared as the students maneuvered their robots around a mock construction site.
Four teams competed in each round while the other teams cheered them on or checked their robots to make sure everything was in working order.
Hannah Niederriter, 18, a senior at Cranberry High School and part of the Berry Botics team, said the first round was a little rough but they made it through.
“That means we can only go up from here,” she said.
Dozens of middle school and high school students from western Pennsylvania joined the competition, which has been held at the college since 2010, said Dr. Mike Bright, GCC professor of electrical and computer engineering and president of the national BEST Robotics board of directors.
The competition is presented by Elliott Group, and it focuses on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “BEST” stands for “boosting engineering, science and technology.”
This year’s theme was “Demo Daze.” The college provided each team with supplies about six weeks ago, and the robots had to complete tasks like picking up pipes, demolishing a building and protecting a compressor, Bright said.
One of the highlights for some attendees is making as much noise as possible, and many of them make sure to root for every team.
They slapped foam pool noodles loudly against the wall, rang cow bells, repeated chants, waved flags and shook pom-poms. Some spectators were color-coordinated with their favorite team.
The top three teams move on to a regional competition in Denver, and their final scores come from several different categories, Bright said.
The 2020 competition was virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the students were excited to be in the middle of the action on Saturday.
“I’ve been doing this since seventh grade. It feels like my family’s all together again,” Niederriter said.
It’s “extremely fun,” said Caleb Reynolds, 11, a sixth-grader at Creative Learning Christian School in Mercer.
This was the school’s first year in the competition, and their teacher, Cayla Bennett, said they did amazing in making it through the first round.
Caleb explained how their robot, named “Forky,” had multiple moving parts, weights, wheels and more.
While he and his teammates waited their turn, they tweaked a few things on Forky. Each team had a variety of tools and supplies, and several tables were covered in electrical cords and charging stations.
Roan Fair, 18, a senior at Christian Life Academy in Seneca, said he enjoys the fellowship with other teams. They also help each other out when needed.
That shows that the competition is about more than just building robots, Kelly Burford said.
“It’s awesome to see the schools supporting each other,” she said as she waited for her daughter’s team to start the next round.
Riley Burford, 17, is a senior at Clarion Area High School who’s been part of the competition since seventh grade.
The students have to give a marketing presentation and produce an engineering notebook that explains their project, and they can ask local businesses to sponsor their team, Burford said.
Each student can take on a different task, and they also take field trips to learn more about the theme of the competition, which Burford said teaches them about good sportsmanship.
“The good teams want the lesser teams to get better,” Bright said on Friday afternoon as the teams arrived at the college, noting that all of those different components give the students real-world experience.
On Friday, each team set up informational booths to go along with their marketing presentations.
The Castle Crashers team from Franklin Area School District had a castle-themed booth with a life-sized knight and a wrecking ball.
The whole event is a great opportunity to make new friends, improve leadership and teamwork skills, and learn more about the STEM field, said Ethan Culp, 17, and Madolyn Williams, 13.
“They will discover what happens when you excel,” said Michael Steiner, executive director of BEST Robotics.
He was watching the students build their booths, saying he gets a bit teary-eyed to see them so enthusiastic.
The organization was founded 29 years ago, when people began to realize they needed to prepare more young folks for work in the STEM field.
Through the competition, the students learn about time management, conflict resolution, teamwork and more. Some of them discover they’d like to pursue a career in the STEM field, Steiner said.
“They’re disrupting things in a good sense,” he said.
For more information about BEST Robotics, visit “BEST Robotics, Inc.” on Facebook or www.bestrobotics.org