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Robotics Club Takes to the Road!

On March 1–3, 2019, the FSDB Robotics Club traveled to North Carolina to compete in the First NRSC & VEX Deaf and Hard of Hearing Robotics Regional Tournament. There were 12 schools with 18 teams competing. Nothing less than an entrance to VEX Worlds Championship in Louisville, KY was at stake! The NRSC (NTID Regional STEM Center) sponsored all travel and tournament expenses for the teams and the host school. Besides the FSDB team, the state of Florida had a second DHH robotics team from Broward County Public Schools, who also entered the tournament.

FSDB student Chris Weber works on a robot.

The robotics tournament was a rollercoaster ride from the start. When the FSDB team arrived, the leaderboard which projected the team rankings was not functioning correctly. Their first game ended in a tie, and they won their second game. Since the leaderboard was not working, they were advised to download the app to view competition rankings. While downloading the app, the team competed in their third game and won again! When the app finished downloading, the team was thrilled to see that they were in the first place! This was the case for several rounds, much to their excitement. There were a total of 32 qualifying matches before the tournament. FSDB won in the quarterfinals but unfortunately lost in the semifinals.

FSDB Robotics Coach Monica Griffey explained that the school team had relatively less experience than the winning teams. All of the North Carolina teams had four years of working on similar robotics challenges, while this was the first year for FSDB.

Each team had three positions–programmer, driver (remote control), and mechanic/builder. Chris Weber, the student programmer, was shocked by the sheer number of people who participated in the event. He said the most challenging part was getting their robot to work after the program went bust and it wouldn’t move! They painstakingly reprogrammed it from scratch.

Jacob Ellis, the team’s driver, cited his favorite moments from the competition—when their much smaller robot managed to fend off an opponent’s larger and more elaborate robot while climbing a set of stairs.

Ellis explained, “I had to keep him off, he tried to push me, but I kept on.” Ellis liked being team driver, and enthused, “it was exciting during matches.”

FSDB student Jacob Ellis holding remote controller for robot.

Logan Helmer, the builder (mechanic) was surprised and delighted when his whole family came to watch the tournament, as some of his family lives in North Carolina. Helmer was very proud that the FSDB team won the BUILD award at the competition. In the end, it was a North Carolina Girl Power team that won the tournament and trip to Louisville, KY. Griffey and her robotics team wish them the best of luck at the upcoming 2019 VEX Worlds!

SkillsUSA Competition

On their second road trip adventure, FSDB students competed against five other teams in the Mobile Robotics category during the SkillsUSA competition, held April 8-9, 2019 in Pensacola, FL. Each team was required to turn in engineering books and complete an interview about their robot and the program. The competition was divided into “autonomous” and “drive” time slots, and the objective was to score as many points as possible during both of these slots. The entire competition from beginning to end took about four hours. When the team attended the closing ceremony, they discovered they had taken 2nd place!

FSDB students Jacob and Chris receiving their silver medal at the State SkillsUSA Competition.

Team programmer Chris Weber said, “During Monday’s competition, I felt confident. We started working on the code, and at some point the code made the robot go so fast that Jacob (Ellis) and I were blown away. It was hair-standing-on-end fast! Next, we had the interview portion of the competition and I was a little big-headed because I knew we had done an amazing job.”

Griffey coaches the students on teamwork and collaboration essentials, and the resultant camaraderie among the boys was evident in all their competitions. She and her co-coaches, Mohan Varthakavi and Richard Flores, brought the team a long way in a short time. Kudos to their expertise and devotion, and their talented student team! Next year, the Robotics Club will be starting a team in the Deaf Middle School. Be sure to follow all the adventures that await the teams next school year!

By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services


About FSDB

The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit


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