The Ponca City High School robotics team has racked up a lot of miles traveling to regional competitions this decade. In March, it won't have to travel as far. The selection of Oklahoma City as a regional site for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) competition was announced Wednesday at Oklahoma City's Southeast High School gymnasium. More than 40 teams comprised of 15 to 25 high school students are expected to compete during the three-day event March 20-22 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
‘Serious about science'There will be 37 regional tournaments leading to the April national competition in Atlanta, when more than 1,300 teams from 23 countries will compete for $8 million in scholarships. Robotics teams from Ponca City and Moore Norman Technology Center showed off their robots during Wednesday's ceremony. "There are two important advantages to having the regional competition in Oklahoma,” said Burns Hargis, chairman of an advisory committee that sought the event. "One is it demonstrates to the nation that Oklahoma is serious about science and technology training. The second is that it enables us to have many more teams involved because they avoid the very substantial cost of traveling to regionals in Denver or Houston or Kansas City.” Hargis said Oklahoma City competed with Dallas to host the 2008 regional event.
Interest spreadsJohn Tourville, a high school student on the Moore Norman Technology Center's team, said he's excited Oklahoma was selected for a regional site. "This gives kids an opportunity from our schools to come. Perhaps they can experience what it's like and they might want to get interested in it,” Tourville said. A dozen Oklahoma high schools have robotics teams and nearly 20 others have expressed interest in starting one, said Tonya Scott, faculty adviser for Ponca City's team. Scott expects teams from Oklahoma and five states will compete here. "We have always had to travel and be the outsider at events. Now we feel like a host,” Scott said. "Oklahoma hospitality is like no other and we intend for this to be a spectacular event, not only for Oklahoma kids but for those who want to visit us.” The Legislature in May appropriated $100,000 for high schools to establish robotics projects. The state Education Department will award 20 grants of $5,000 for schools to implement remote-controlled robot projects that could be entered into competitions. "What we want to develop in students is real-life problem solving skills,” Scott said. "There is nothing greater than a problem of giving kids two boxes full of electronic stuff and saying, ‘Here, build some stuff out of it.' Not only do you have to build it, but it has to run well and not break down all the time.”