Sports for the Brain. VEX Robotics Regional Tournament


There was enough collective brain power working in the Health and Wellness Centre at Sault College on Saturday, December 10th, 2016 to potentially solve any number of the world’s problems where science, technology, engineering and mathematics intersect.

With 21 teams registered in VEX Robotics Regional Tournament, highschool age students from within the District of Algoma were invited to design a robot, with the particular tasks of a game called ‘Starstruck’ in mind. Teams were competing for spots at upcoming Provincial VEX championships.

‘VEX Robotics Competition ‘Starstruck’ is played on a 12’x12’ square field.  Two alliances – one “red” and one “blue” – composed of two teams each, compete in matches consisting of a fifteen second autonomous period followed by one minute and forty-five seconds of driver-controlled play.

20161210_125618The object of the game is to attain a higher score than the opposing Alliance by Scoring your Stars and Cubes in your Zones and by Hanging Robots on your Hanging Bar. There are twenty-four (24) Stars and four (4) Cubes, available in Match. Some begin in designated locations on the field, while others are available to be entered into the field during the Match.

Each Robot (smaller than 18”x18”x18”) begins a match on one of their Alliance Starting Tiles. Each Alliance has two Zones across the Fence to Score into. Alliances also earn points for having one Robot Hanging at the end of the Match from their Hanging Bar. A bonus is awarded to the Alliance that has the most total points at the end of the Autonomous Period.’

Jonathan Budau, Superior Heights senior physics teacher and VEX Robotics Coordinator, Algoma District School Board, spoke with saultonline.

20161210_122421“We call it Sports for the Brain. About ¼ of the young people, league wide, and across the Algoma District, have been on a school team for the first time when joining the robotics team. Robotics gives them a platform to express their creativity, and their unique approach to problem-solving. Our coaches are there to help them solve specific problems, but for the most part, the young people find solutions on their own. Robotics encourages the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).” he said.

“The league minimum is one or two students per team, up to 10 as a maximum. Teams are generally anywhere from 2 – 8 students. In the first year, we had about 12% girls competing, and now we are up to 29% girls. We had three teams registered that were all- girl teams this year.” shared Budau. Now that’s a statistic that even Dr. Roberta Bondar might find impressive.

20161210_131548“We had about 25 people both behind the scenes and out in front, supporting the event, including Sault College professors and technical and support staff, Engineers from private companies (and a part of the Professional Engineers of Ontario – PEO) and Ontario Association of Engineering Technicians and Technologists – OACETT), plus Tenaris Algoma Tubes and Sault Area Hospital employees.  We also had about a dozen high school students assisting as well.” he said. “The TENARIS support we have received is tremendous. We are able to fund a lot of expensive robotics kits because of the support received by TENARIS. The VEX kit comes all preloaded with everything needed to build a robot. Teams are restricted from doing any fancy machining, however, they can do some fundraising if they want extra pieces for their design. We provide them with the VEX super kit, which costs $1,300.”

Students are tasked to build a robot around specific skills that the tournament game requires. “The game is redesigned each year and released at World Championships (April) of the previous year. Pieces get manufactured, and shipped to us.” said Budau. “There are 7 tournaments throughout Ontario, leading to Provincials.”

20161210_123625“Lone Wolf Robotics”, a team of independent students, proved to have the  dominant machine at the VEX Regional tournament.  After qualifying first in the Round-Robin portion, they chose the “Knights and Bolts”, an all-girl team from St. Mary’s, and the rookie team “Huskybots” from C.A.S.S.  This #1 seeded playoff Alliance team would face the #2 ranked Alliance of Korah pairs “Kalesh” and “[insert name here]” plus St. Mary’s “Team Aries” in the playoff finals, and proved to be too much for the #2-ranked squad, capturing the TEAM TOURNAMENT CHAMPION award.  This also qualified the #1 alliance squad to be able to represent Northern Ontario at the Provincials in St. Catharine’s in February. The event’s overall top award, the EXCELLENCE award, also went to Lone Wolf Robotics, who placed top-3 in every performance and scoring category for the event.  They also took first place in the ROBOT SKILLS award, where robots perform Autonomous (no Driver), plus a Driver’s Skills contests in solo scoring efforts.

20161210_121104Lone Wolf Robotics was not finished for the day, also winning the top judging award; the DESIGN award, which recognizes exceptional engineering skills and process in the form of a completed design notebook, plus an interview with a panel of engineering professionals who judged their engineering methods.

In other categories and awards, the following teams also brought home accolades and trophies:

CASS’s rookie team “Dues Ex Machina” earned the BUILD Award, in recognition of having a solidly constructed and efficiently designed machine.

St. Mary’s “Knights and Bolts” also added the CREATE Award for their innovative and very effective lifting and gripping system for grabbing and scoring the game’s unique foam stars and cube-shaped beanbags.

St. Mary’s “Prototypes” earned the AMAZE award for effective scoring strategies and overall ability.

The Hornepayne High school’s squad “Stormborn” brought home the JUDGE’s award by impressing the judges with their overall performance and skills.

Peer awards (as voted on by their fellow teams) were earned by Michipicoten High School’s “Little Vikings” for their enthusiasm and ENERGY while Superior Heights’ “White Noise Factor” was voted to receive the SPORTSMANSHIP award.

This wraps up the season for the secondary school teams, except for Lone Wolf Robotics, Knights & Bolts, and Huskybots, who will prepare for the Provincials.  Wild Card invitations could also add one or two additional local teams, depending on overall Ontario team scores at the end of the qualifying season.

The local program and event were made possible by the incredible support and assistance of Tenaris Algoma Tubes, PEO & OACETT (Algoma chapters), Sault College and Algoma District School Board, plus dozens of local engineering and technology companies who contributed purchase the event fields and game equipment for the event.

Local Elementary schools will face-off in the VEX IQ event at Sault College on January 21st, attempting to earn their own berths to the VEX IQ Provincials. iDesign Solutions, (Toronto), provides the hardware for VEX Robotics kits. (

Congratulations to all of the teams and support volunteers on a remarkable event.

For information, contact Event Director, Jonathan Budau, at [email protected]