On Saturday, teams of high school students crowded into a second-floor auditorium inside Baltimore Leadership School on West Franklin Street. Teenagers wielded handheld, Xbox-like controllers connected to wheeled, waist-high machines built from silver-colored, metal plates, each equipped with some type of claw or bulldozer-like scooping device. Spectators shouted and cheered as students maneuvered their miniature machines around square fields, using clawed arms to hoist bean bags into troughs and towers 20 inches off the ground.
Saturday’s event was the first of three VEX Robotics competitions taking place in Baltimore city public schools this academic year, as well as the inaugural VEXmas Classic, this city’s qualifying tournament for the VEX Robotics World Championship competition in April 2013. Teams from Dunbar High, City College, Western High School, tournament hosts Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and other city middle schools and high schools—as well as eight teams who drove up from Virginia—battled one another in two-minute “Sack Attack” matches, where opposing robotics teams try to score points by lifting bean bags into suspended troughs.
When the six-hour tournament was over, the RoboDoves all-women team from Western High had won both the finals and the Excellence Award, securing its spot at this year’s robotics world championship in Anaheim, Calif. The RoboDoves is the only all-female team in Maryland that has qualified for the VEX championship tournament.
Indya Dodson and Keimmie Booth of the RoboDoves talk about Saturday’s competition: