The St. John-Hudson robotics team is building and programming their robot as they get ready for a season of tournaments

Tension is high as robotics team students watch their creations move around the gaming floor and complete their tasks without any assistance from the students. It’s an action packed competition and the St. John High School Robotics team is ready for another season. Their first tournament is Oct. 27.

There are four members on the St. John team this year. Returning team members are Ethan Huston and Colton Ward. Joining them are rookies Damian Rios and Zack Fischer, said robotics coach Andrea Sayler-Siefkes.

Robotics is in its third year at St. John. They participate in the VEX Robotics Challenge that includes several tournaments throughout the year including two at St. John this year. This year’s challenge is “Turning Point” that is played on a 12 feet by 12 feet square field.

Each team gets identical kits to build their robots. But the robot design and programming is up to each individual team. It’s early in the year and the team is now building their robot. They have the basic chassis done. Construction is a learn as you go process. It gives the students a chance to build then rebuild and to do the same with programming. It gives the students some real life lessons. They sometimes have to work through disagreements so robotics helps build social and communication skills.

“In life, you are constantly tweaking. This is a great way to practice that,” Sayler-Siefkes said.

The tournaments also give students a lot of time for social interaction with other teams, teachers and adults. Classroom science, technology, engineering and math are put to the test as students learn lifelong skills of teamwork, leadership, communications and more, Sayler-Siefkes said.

The robots are programmed to complete certain tasks on the competition area. Each team partners with another team and they take on another pair of teams in tournaments. Team members have to quickly be able to communicate with people they don’t know to be successful.

After each round, the teams switch with other teams for future rounds. It is possible for teams to be on the same side then oppose each other in later rounds, Sayler-Siefkes said.

Teams pre program the robots and they have to work for 15 seconds by themselves in each round. Then a driver takes over for one minute and forty five seconds. Drivers use a joy stick but they also program the control box. Each team has at least one driver but every team member is eligible to be a driver.

Teams score points for competing tasks on the playing field. This year robots score points by turning over hexagonal objects, putting balls on the objects, turning flags from one color to another or hitting the flags with balls so the flags change color or parking the robot in a certain spot, Sayler-Siefkes said.

The St. John home meets are scheduled for Nov. 17, 2018 and Jan. 26, 2019, Sayler-Siefkes said.

“Hosting these events is a great opportunity for our school and community,” Sayler-Siefkes said. “But I’m nervous about the home tournaments. It’s a big, big undertaking.”

It takes a lot of volunteers to make the meets a success. Volunteers should contact Sayler-Siefkes at

Help is needed to set up arenas on the Friday evenings, Nov. 16 and Jan. 25, before the events, hosting or helping with concessions, be a field “re-setter” with training available before the event, be a visiting team host or hostess or tear down the arenas after the event, Sayler-Siefkes said.

The schedule for both meets is the same. The November event will have 24 teams and the January event will have 36 teams.

The public is encouraged to come and watch the action.

“Robotics events are fast paced and fun to watch,” Sayler-Siefkes said. “Spectators would have the best experience watching between 10 and noon. The event is come and go with new rounds starting every five minutes.”

Tournaments are held year round at the regional, state and national levels culminating in the VEX Robotics World Championship each April. Some 11,000 teams come from middle school, high school, college and university levels from the U.S. and 45 countries participate in over 900 tournaments a year.

Tournament schedule for both Nov. 17, 2018 and Jan. 26, 2019.

7:30 a.m. Doors open, check-in and inspections. 9:30 a.m. Driver’s meeting.

10 a.m. Qualification rounds begin.

Noon Lunch

1 p.m. Qualification rounds resume.

1:30 p.m. Alliance Selection for elimination rounds.

2 p.m. Elimination rounds begin.

3 p.m. Elimination rounds end followed by the awards ceremony.

The schedule is subject to change. If qualification rounds can be completed before lunch then elimination rounds will start immediately after lunch.