Martins Creek Middle School’s Chaotic Robots team and Peachtree Elementary School’s Peachtree Panthers team compete side by side during the second robot run of the First Lego League Qualifier Tournament. Photo by SAMANTHA SINCLAIR

SCOUTING AROUND: Two county robotics teams make it to state

    Robotics teams from Martins Creek Elementary School and Ranger Elementary Middle School are moving on to the state competition after qualifying at the First Lego League Tournament in Cherokee on Saturday.
    Only 15 teams out of 44 from the Smoky Mountain Area Robotics Team (SMART) region – which is the six school districts in Cherokee, Clay, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties – were selected based on scores from morning judging sessions on project, core values and designs, as well as the points earned from the afternoon robot run portion of the competition.
    The challenge theme for this year’s competition was Animal Allies. For the main spectator event, students had to program their robots to do tasks that help Lego animals on a large tabletop game board.
    “It’s very exciting,” Isaiah Matheson, one of the students on Martins Creek Elementary’s Animal Defenders team, said as he watched the electronic scoreboard for the robot runs. “We got all of our programming that we had on our robot to work.”
    Matheson’s teammates were Levi Chastain, Sadie Curran, Aaliyah Lozano, Trey Morin, Madison Munz, Carson Phillips, Leah Reagin and Liberty Worden.
    The school placed 16th last year when their coach, John Worden, was pulled to be a judge in the competition. This year, he got spend more time with his team as well as other teams in the county.
    “I was really impressed with all of Cherokee County,” Worden said.
    Ranger’s all-girls team, The Rockin Robots, was a mix of both elementary- and middle-school students. Their coach, Sherry Brookins, was ecstatic from the moment she saw the team place second after the first round of robot runs.
    “Not one of these girls who programmed have ever programmed before,” she said.
    In just the robot runs, the team finished in 12th place. Ari Collier, Adara Collier, Cheyenne Albright, Ryleigh Stewart, Emily Tomczak, Nataly Tomczak and Kara Penland were The Rockin Robots.
    While those teams continue in the competition for their overall performance, other teams were given trophies for their presentations in the judging sessions. Worden said these sessions provide opportunities for students to learn how to communicate with adults, as coaches are not allowed to be present.
    Ranger’s team of all boys, Robotic Wolves, coached by Gabrielle Gagnon, received the Gracious Professionalism Award for their presentation. Martins Creek Middle School’s team, Chaotic Robots, coached by Chad Brooks, won the Strategy and Innovation Award. In the robot run portion, Chaotic Robots finished just behind The Rockin Robots in 13th place.
    Andrews Elementary School’s team, the Wildbots, were surprised to see their team in 11th place after the first robot run.
    “They had no robot experience,” said Lisa Scott, one of the Wildbots’ coaches. “Their teachers had no robot experience.”
    “When they came off that field, even though they only completed two missions, they were very excited,” said Ann Williams, the Wildbots’ other coach.
    Other schools had better second and third runs, pushing the Wildbots down to 30th by the end of the robot run portion.
    Some Cherokee County schools felt ready for the competition. Hiwassee Dam Middle School had about half of the students from the team that placed seventh last year, and, this year, the school brought its elementary team, too. Coach David Decker said even though they were technically competitors, the middle school students helped the elementary school students prepare.
    Peachtree Elementary School coach Kary McClure thought her team was more prepared than last year.
    “Just one year of experience has given us a foot up,” she said, adding that her students took much more control of the project this year.
    Andrews and Murphy middle schools also had teams, with Murphy’s team reaching the 20th spot at the end of the robot runs.
    With teams from almost every elementary and middle school in the county competing, and Hiwassee Dam, Martins Creek and Ranger each having two teams, Cherokee County had one of the biggest delegations at the event. The SMART region also had the biggest qualifier tournament in the state this year.
    “I have been really fortunate to have the support of our board of education, Superintendent Dr. (Jeana) Conley and community organizations who have given us grants and money to make the program successful,” said Jennifer White, the district’s technology director.
    “The kids love this program,” White added. “The robotics teams are treated much like a sports team, with practices after school and activities on the weekends. Every year we are getting more kids and more interest in the STEM activities, specifically robotics. It’s really been a huge success in Cherokee County.”
    The state First Lego League Tournament will be Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14-15, at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro.

Ladies who provide free lunch
    The Unaka Hearts & Hands Club brought the holiday spirit to Murphy Free Methodist Church for the free Fifth Tuesday lunch they provide.
    The ladies took over the Fifth Tuesday project in 2012, when a local church could no longer provide it, and moved it to the church near the Murphy Post Office. The club plans, prepares and serves a home-cooked meal to 40-50 people each month there is a fifth Tuesday.
    “We’re all Christian women, and when there’s a need to fill, you fill it,” said Bonnie Oller, the club’s president.
    The Nov. 29 meal included turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, plus other traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas sides and desserts. Even the long table was decorated with a red tablecloth and poinsettia centerpieces.
    “It’s all Hearts and Hands Club,” said Sandy Spicer, the project chair. “We provide for everything.”
    There are about 12 women in the club, and about four are needed to volunteer for the Fifth Tuesday project every few months. Diana Campbell is happy she can do something to help.
    “I don’t have a lot of talents, but the one thing I can do for the Lord is cook,” she said.
    Those who come for the free food are appreciative of what the ladies do. “I think it’s great, just helping people in general,” Robert Oliver said. “I think it’s something that needs to be done more. Anyone who comes out here is certainly blessed to receive a free meal.”
    The Unaka Hearts & Hands Club, an extension community association, do many different projects throughout the year. They have made rag quilts for babies for Family Resource Center, feminine products for girls in Haiti, and have volunteered at the county fair. “Hearts & Hands really reaches out to all sorts of needs,” Spicer said.
    The club meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month in the Unaka Community Center. The club is always looking for more people to join them in their volunteering efforts.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.