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High School Robotics Mavens Compete In Super-Charged Nat'l Competition

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Teams from across the state and country, including a handful from the city, are in St. Louis competing in the FIRST Robotics National Championship. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner is there as the preliminary matches get underway and filed this report.

ST. LOUIS -- Day one of the national championship finds teams feverishly fine tuning. Students from Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School, a veteran team, spends the morning working out some electrical issues, while the Harlem Knights from Frederick Douglass Academy feel super-charged for their first year at the big game.

"We're trying to get out robot to function how it's supposed to. It's nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time," says Kayla Loperena of Harlem Knights, Team 1660 from The Frederick Douglass Academy.

This year's challenge, "Ultimate Ascent," takes the competition to new heights. Robots release flying discs, which soar toward targets across the field. Others climb a pyramid-like structure.

The higher they get, the higher their score and at nationals those scores can reach the stratosphere.

"When we're in regionals, you see teams that are really good and teams that are not so good, and the thing is here every single team is really good," says Lesly Hamud of Robotigers, Team 1796 from Queens Vocational & Technical High School.

There are a lot of teams, 400 teams from nine countries to be exact. But while the competition is fierce, it isn't cut-throat. Teams cheer one another on, form alliances and share trade secrets.

"A lot of other teams have really helped us grow. Being here with the best of the best, teams from Israel and Brazil and all over, there's so many great ideas here," says Leslie Gil of Code Red Robotics, Team 639 of Ithaca High School.

The road to St. Louis started in January, when teams were given six weeks to turn a box of bits and pieces into a highly functional robot. But that is hardly the journey's end.

The ultimate goal is to get kids to go from the competition field to the professional fields of technology and engineering.

"F = MA. How does that actually translate to a real life thing? Kids come in, they spend six weeks, they build a robot and actually see these principles come to life," says Joe Ricci, the coach of the Stuyvesant High School team, StuyPulse, Team 694.

"I know I like to weld and it kind of pushed me in the direction to know that I want to do engineering for my life," says Brianna Wood of The Rocketeers, Team 20 from Shenendehowa High School.

Qualifying matches continue at the Edward Jones Dome through Friday night with the finals taking place on Saturday.

For more science, technology engineering and math opportunities in your community, visit connectamillionminds.com.

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