A group of 4-H team members will travel to compete on the world stage at the FIRST Tech World Championship in Houston, Texas on Tuesday.
It's a journey that has taken a group of four teenagers months and in fact years of hard work to reach the pinnacle of achievement in the robotics world.
"These four local kids have worked their backsides off to earn the right to attend," said Tommie Rodgers, the mother of Nathan Rodgers, 19, and his brother Jonathan, 18, born 18 months apart.
The two brothers, along with team members Zach Sahnger, Jacob Lowther and Kylynne Mockridge performed well enough in the First Tech Challenge South Super Regional in Athens Ga., held March 8-11, to earn a trip to the world championship.
Only three teams out of 72 that advanced to the South Super Regionals would go on to the World Championship.
"These kids are a community-based team," the elder Rodgers said. "They are not supported by the school system or a particular business. They are practicing real-world engineering skills without the benefit of an engineer as a mentor or coach. They are good, well-rounded students who have been willing to sacrifice a lot of free time to build one of the best competitive robots and one of the top three First Tech Challenge teams in Mississippi."
The "Challenge Accepted" team has traveled to venues large and small to compete against other "techies" during robotics team exercises across the nation.
According to Tommie Rodgers, Mississippi is the only state in which all of the teams that competed at the Super Regional would go on to advance on to the next level of competition.
Jonathan Rodgers began participating in robotics when he was just 13.
"I've been doing robotics for nine years," Jonathan said. "I like thinking of a design and see it come to life."
During matches, custom-built robots are required to complete a task in a specific amount of time.
"There are a total of four robots and they are trying to do the task at the same time," Jonathan Rodgers said. "You have two minutes and 30 seconds to do the task and it's all autonomous. The last two minutes are by remote control. The way teams compete is in an alliance. Your partner is randomly chosen. Last year, we had to coordinate and communicate with someone from China."
Tommie Rodgers said her sons and the other robotics team participants have logged countless miles traveling to and from competitions.
"I have a home economics background so at first I was trying to learn all I could about robotics," Rodgers said of the hobby-turned-engineering enterprise which often helps students land a scholarship to a major college or university like MIT. "Even when they were first starting 4-H and they were uncertain and still trying to determine if they could learn how to do this, I tried to be supportive. I've watched them grow into these roles. It's an amazing thing."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.