FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics teams finish out season at Manual High School

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Manual High School gym transformed into a stage for young engineers and programmers to show off their skills on Saturday, Feb.12.

FIRST Tech Robotics teams from across Illinois high schools brought their best bots to compete in the annual February match, many hoping to secure a spot in the state championship. Saturday’s match challenged students to gather the most points by using their rovers to maneuver a bumpy course while picking up and drop objects onto or in designated scoring areas.

The Manual Academy Robo-Rams’ team lead, Kirsten Polk, now a sophomore in high school, said she’s been in FIRST Robotics for four years.

“I really like the programming, learning aspect of it because you learn something new every single day, and it probable won’t ever stop,” Polk said.

Polk said the sport has helped her jumpstart building her career.

“Before I had done robotics, I really didn’t really know what I wanted to do until now,” Polk said. “I kind of want to do something program related because I could do it and I know there are a lot of fields out there, especially new fields that are mainly technology.”

Luther Beegle, NASA’s Principal Investigator for the SHERLOC instrument on the Perseverance Mars Rover, came to speak and support the kids at the competition. He said he tries to show up and be there for the kids whenever he can.

“It’s a well-rounded organization that teaches you every aspect of putting things together with things you don’t even know you need,” Beegle said.

Beegle said it’s a fun way for students to meet new people, work with a team, and strengthen their skills, while also preparing students to be successful outside of high school.

“You learn all aspects of putting things together from computer programming, to CAD, to machining, to accounting and public relations,” Beegle said.

Beegle and Polk said they encourage kids interested in trying out a FIRST program to join a local team.

“Really support your kids to do that because it really is a life long expedition they’re going to go down,” Beegle said.

Manual High School’s team is open to any kid in the area. To learn more about joining, visit the school website or visit the FIRST website to view their programs and where they may be available in your area.

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