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Middle school robotics teams compete at world event

Robotics teams from three Forsyth County middle schools made an impression at the recent world championship, with one school bringing home the top award.

Teams from Lakeside, Piney Grove and South Forsyth competed at the 2016 VEX Robotics Worlds competition last month in Louisville, Ky. The competition featured 172 teams from across the globe, including from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Mexico and Singapore.

“Basically the top 8 percent of the teams are invited to the world competition, and Forsyth County had three middle school teams [there],” said Emil Decker, a teacher at South Forsyth and the team’s sponsor.

During the competition, students must build and program robots from a kit. They then compete in a game against robots from other schools.

This year’s contest required robots to toss balls into a net in the corner.

The competition broke the Guinness World Records title for largest robotics competition, with more than 15,000 students ranging from elementary school to college, participating.

Lakeside’s team, the Killer Monkeys, took home the competition’s biggest honor, the Excellence Award, essentially the MVP honor for the competition.

“It was actually really funny. The excellence award is the highest award that the judges can award to any team,” said team member Michael Nguyen. “I remember just sitting there in front of the stage … [the presenter] started giving this speech about the excellence and what it takes, and she starts to say our team number.

“Everything seemed to slow down, we’re like, ‘Wait, that’s our team number.’”

The Killer Monkeys also won the world programming skills championship and took second place in robot skills.

Other members of team are Rohan Aluri, Nitin Bhogaraju, Pranav Golakoti, Sophia Tran and Ethan Yim. Joe Smart, teacher, was the team’s sponsor.

South Forsyth’s Electric Eagles — made up of students Hyuk Lee, Rithin Paurupalli and Praharsha Pinniniti — also had a strong showing, winning its division, but falling to the competition portion’s winner from China.

Decker said it was quite an experience for the team.

“Teams are fighting out and the stands are literally full and they’re cheering and they’re hollering,” he said. “It’s like a NBA playoff or something. It’s just amazing that people can get so excited about science and technology.”

Ryan Henson, teacher and team sponsor at Piney Grove, said it had been a challenging year, but he was pleased with the team’s 15th-place finish in their division.

He added that the competition likely sets up the kids for future success.

“Robotics is by far, I think, one of the best opportunities for students to get a real world application and experience,” he said. “We teach programming, mechanics, all kinds of aspects that can translate to jobs and careers.

“More and more of our world is being automated and I think this is going to give students a chance to get into those fields of study.”

Piney Grove’s team, the Grizzlies, included students Duke Baek, Colton Jones, Praphul Kamabathula, Charlie Szilagyi and Collin Winne.

For those who were unable to attend, ESPN2 will broadcast the competition on July 20.