Aurora -- By designing robots that perform remarkable feats, two robotics squads from Aurora High School -- "Team TBD" and "Team Int elligence" -- are headed to the state tournament Feb. 14-15 in Cincinnati.

"Team members design the robots and program them," TBD coach Darren Thieding said. "There are a lot of calculations involved. The students also document their season using engineering notebooks."

The two Aurora teams competed in the Northeast Ohio regional qualifying tournament Jan. 3 at Cuyahoga Community College.

Then the two outfits were among 24 teams that competed in a regional qualifying tournament Jan. 10-11 in Newark.

TBD team members are Ian Doemling, Jared Ruehr and Tyler Thieding. Helping out coach Thieding is assistant coach Joe Doemling.

Int elligence team members are James Kristell, Alex Kohn, Colin Heath and John Holt. Head coach is Murray Kristell and the assistant coaches are Dick Eshleman and Mike Kohn.

The squads have several months in the fall to construct an 18-by-18-by-18-inch robot, which competes in tournaments on a 12-by-12-foot playing field.

In the First Tech Challenge competition, which involves grades 7 to 12, two teams are paired randomly and compete against two other squads.

Each year, the challenge changes. It can involve the robot picking up rings, blocks or bowling balls.

This year, the robots have to pick up two sizes of plastic whiffle balls -- baseball-size and golf ball-size -- and place them in vertical tubes.

This includes a 2 1/2-minute segment where the competitors have to control the robots wirelessly.

"You have to create a strategy that allows the two teams to advance in the competition. You develop interpersonal skills to communicate," Thieding said. "That is where the real value of this is. That's real-world stuff these kids are getting exposed to."

THIEDING SAID the competition also emphasizes "gracious professionalism," which according to the First Tech Challenge website, involves "doing things that encourage high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community."

It is also important to display "unqualfied kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition."

In Newark, the TBD team won the Rockwell Collins Innovate Award given to the team that has the most innovative and creative robot design solutions.

Team TBD also won the prestigious Inspire Award, which is the highest given to a team, and the Promote Award, which recognizes a team-made video that promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Team Int elligence won the Think Award, which recognizes the robot design process and was in second place for the Inspire Award.

In addition, elementary students participate in robotics through the First Lego League.

When the current Aurora High School robotics students were in sixth grade in 2010, they participated in FLL under the direction of Shannon Gagel, a gifted interventionalist at Leighton School.

The two teams evolved, according to Thieding, because the "Int elligence" team wanted to remain with FLL longer.

"Our team [TBD] was successful and wanted to stay together," he said, so the two squads became separate teams. TBD was previously coached by Terry Phillips, who later moved to Texas.

TBD competed at the high school level as seventh-graders, while team Int elligence remained in FLL until ninth grade when it joined First Tech Challenge, which normally includes grades 7-12.

Thieding is in his second year coaching the TBD team, while Murray Kristell coaches the Int elligence squad.


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Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC