It is understandable that fans of high school athletics in Aurora are captivated by sports like football and basketball. That's how it is all over the country.

Activities like robotics, though, also are worthy of our attention and encourage many students at the local high school to learn new ways to think creatively.

"Robotics will benefit students more than what most students will receive from athletics," said Darren Thieding, coach of the TBD robotics team at Aurora High School.

Teams TBD and "Int elligence" are two highly successful robotics squads at the high school. A story about them appeared in the Advocate on Jan. 21.

There are about 45,000 students involved in robotics in schools nationally, along with about 4,500 teams.

Similar to high school sports, there are opportunities for seniors and juniors in robotics to earn more than $13.5 million in college scholarships nationwide each year, according to the First Tech Challenge website.

It is also a great way to promote STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] to younger students looking to join robotics.

There are plenty of perks. Team members get to design, build and program robots; apply real-world math and science concepts; develop problem-solving, organizational and team-building skills; and compete and cooperate in alliances and tournaments, according to the First Tech Challenge website.

Robotics also encourages young people to think like scientists and engineers, and it provides fun, hands-on learning experiences.

THERE ARE other similarities to athletics, too. Both robotics and sports teach students to work to overcome obstacles, and they build self esteem and confidence.

There is a cost involved with robotics, though.

"We [parents] have to get sponsors to pay for things like supplies and entrance fees to tournaments," said Thieding, adding that there is some funding provided by the Aurora Schools Foundation.

Yet there are lots of positives. Students work hard and learn plenty -- and new friendships are made by both youngsters and parents.

"You'd be surprised at how many friends we've made," said Nikki Thieding, wife of the coach. "Our teams get compliments from all over town. The team members work so hard.

"Their success is very deserved. You say to yourself, 'How are they going to do this?' And then it's done."

Members of team TBD talked about robotics when they were interviewed recently.

"The best part about being on a team is not only having fun, but also having the chance to develop skills that will help me throughout my lifetime," sophomore Ian Doemling said.

"From being on a team, I have learned that with cooperation, patience and teamwork, anything can be accomplished."

Sophomore Jared Ruehr said he has learned "how to make my ideas into reality by working with my teammates and building off of their ideas. Being part of this team allow me to engage in the engineering community and actively pursue my interests in this field."

Sophomore Tyler Thieding said the best part is having the opportunity to problem solve through software development. "I have learned that robotics is a field of study I would like to pursue through college and beyond," he said.

TEAM INT elligence members also believe robotics has many positive aspects.

"Some things I have learned from being on a team include the ability to give directions or convey ideas without being bossy or assuming the role of a complete leader," sophomore Alex Kohn said.

Soplhomore Colin Heath said he has learned about "developing and improving my communication skills, such as the ability to explain my ideas in ways that make sense to other people."

Sophomore James Kristell said he has learned about "the ability to respectfully debate ideas with one another and accomplish tasks together that no single team member could achieve independently in order to produce a gratifying outcome and/or product."

Freshman John Holt said he enjoys having "a helping hand in problem solving, along with some laughs.

"What I learned from being on a team is that you have to fix problems as they come up, not to push them aside for later."

There is even creativity involving the team names.

TBD got its name because on an early written form, team members, without an official name at that time, wrote down TBD -- to be determined. However, the letters stuck, and the team kept the name.

Thieding explained the name "Int elligence," saying, "It is a programming joke. 'Int' stands for integer, which is a type of variable -- a changeable value within the code -- that stores a positive or negative whole number.

"If we were to write our name into our code, it would create a variable called elligence, which written in the code would say intelligence, a trait the team members strive for."


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