Robotics teams compete for state championship spots

Aaron Whitney drives his team's robot during their first match of the day. (Thomas Gray/WCYB)

Robots took over the gym at Sullivan North High School Saturday.

Hundreds of middle and high school students competed in the Golden Raiders Winter Classic robotics tournament for one of four spots at the state championship.

Aaron Whitney is a tenth grader from Cornerstone Academy in Morristown. This is his second year of competition.

"As a team, we try to get everyone to do everything," Aaron said.

He and his teammates have designed this robot for the contest. Each of the tournament's 28 teams programs and designs their own robots, each for a different task. Aaron's team designed their robot to stack cones on top of certain goals to score points.

"This basically specializes in just cones,” Aaron said. “We can move mobile goals, but we can't push them into the large scoring zones."

For the first two matches of the tournament, Aaron was the driver.

"When you get up there, you kind of forget about everyone else, and you're just kind of into it," Aaron said.

Aaron and his partner work with another team to score, while facing off against others. Johnson County High School has a defending world champion team competing.

"It was amazing because we're just a small county from Tennessee,” world champion team member Lauren Paterson said. It's so weird to think that 'Hey, we won something from worlds. We competed against people from other countries and we won this.'"

Lauren and her teammates won the world prize for most creative design last year. This year, her team has built another machine that scores huge numbers of points.

"We started at the very beginning of our school year, back in August,” Dalton Sluder, who built the robot, said. “We went through many designs, looking at them online."

Their robot moves the mobile goals into scoring zones. They beat Aaron’s team 63-13, but the competition is about more than winning and losing.

"There are so many skills that they're building,” tournament director Lucas Carr said. “They're building communication skills, teamwork skills. Like I said, they're working with programming so they get to learn how a programming language works, and how that works in with mechanical and electrical aspects."

Despite the loss, Aaron was ready to get back in the zone.

"We just kind of learn from our mistakes and just move on," Aaron said.

There are more competitions coming up this spring. Local robotics teams can use your help with funding or engineering guidance. If you want to get involved, you can contact Sandy Clark at

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