By Georgia Honts
Vice President of Public Relations, Phoenix Robotics

Botetourt 4-H Phoenix Robotics is a FIRST Robotics Competition team based in Botetourt County.

Each year student team members assemble a robot to complete various tasks and compete in tournaments across the state and perhaps nationally.

Through 4-H, the Phoenix Robotics focuses on teaching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to youth, promoting youth leadership, positive youth development, youth cooperation, and providing learning opportunities for students.

The team consists of students from sixth through 12th grade and has mentors with experience in technology, teaching, money management and organization.

The opportunities to give service to the community, build unforgettable experiences, and learn skills for modern industry for their members are all because of FIRST’s mission and commitment to STEM and 4-H’s commitment to positive youth development.

Botetourt 4-H Phoenix Robotics, previously James River Robotics, formed in 2012 with nine members and two mentors.

The first year proved difficult as FIRST makes every game fun and challenging while James River Robotics was inexperienced.

Last year, the team’s head coach left the Botetourt County school division and when another faculty coach could not be found, the team members had to search for a supporting organization.

After many meetings and discussions through last summer, the team was welcomed as a new Botetourt County 4-H community club and Botetourt County 4-H now supports the team and acts as the main sponsor of the team activities and events.

Since its beginning, the team has diversified, gained experience and grown to over 30 members.

This year there are students representing Central Academy Middle School, Read Mountain Middle School, James River High School and Lord Botetourt High School.

Phoenix Robotics Students have been meeting together as a team since January 7 and must have their robot finished by February 21.

Success in early competitions qualifies the students to go to the FIRST Championship, the biggest robotics competition in FIRST, held in St. Louis, Mo. If they win, the whole team will be eligible for $25 million in scholarships and will have the honor of being FIRST Steamworks Champion.

“FIRST Steamworks” has three main features: fuel, gears and rope. The robot collects fuel and scores it in one of the two goals of the boiler. A human player gives the robot a gear that it can deliver to a lift that scores the team even more points. At the end of the match, a rope is lowered for the robot to climb. The team with the most points at the end wins.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” and is an organization devoted to promoting STEM through sportsmanlike competition known as “Gracious Professionalism.”

Founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, and Woodie Flowers, a professor of engineering at MIT, FIRST has grown from a small organization in New England with a few hundred teams to an international phenomenon with over 38,000 teams and almost 500,000 members.

Each year FIRST designs new challenges from teams to solve, requiring them to rethink their approach each season. One of the most complex and interactive challenges is this year’s game, “FIRST Steamworks.”