Ryan Garrity, a teacher at Mount Hope High School (MHHS) and the head of the school’s Robotics and Engineering Club, greets me sporting a purple mohawk and wielding a Mountain Dew. Garrity, a MHHS graduate and one of the club’s co-founders, describes robotics as “a sport of the mind.” We enter a room where a dozen or so students are busily tinkering with screws, bolts, batteries and laptops. Having won the state championship earlier this year, the team is now preparing for the World Championships, to be held in April in St. Louis. The robotics club, which began in 2006 with four students, now consists of upwards of 40 students. There are three teams: The Underdogs, Tater Bots and Looney Tuned Robotics. Teams compete by guiding their robots in a game that entails picking up plastic loops and placing them on PVC pipes. Garrity describes the complex scoring system. He also mentions that teams can get extra points by picking up the opponent’s robot, so long as they do it within the last 30 seconds of the game.
Connor McMullen, a sophomore who participated in last year’s World Championships, where the team finished 29th, is the captain of the Tater Bots. Prior to last year’s World Championships, Connors tells me that they spent many late nights in the lab: “We had to bribe the janitor with pizza to let us stay late,” he notes. While one of the teams puts their robot through its paces, Garrity says that they are focusing on fundraising. “The school helps,” he says, “but it’s not quite enough to get eight or nine students to St. Louis.” They’re selling purple Tater Bots bracelets and, on April 5, they’re holding a pasta dinner and silent auction at MHHS. They’ve asked local businesses for donations for the silent auction. “I want to maximize the impact,” he says. “It’s not all about winning. It’s all about community.”