VEX Robotics World Championship in reach of Ola High School's Team Gremlin

HENRY COUNTY, Ga. - In just a few weeks, several McDonough school district students will vie for a world championship title – not for a basketball or baseball tournament, but a battle of the minds.

Ola High School's robotics team hopes to take home yet another top title.

Many of these students already have more than 10 years of experience building these machines because they created an after-school robotics program when they were very young. The team's teacher and coach say that's why it's no surprise the team has already nabbed the top honor at the state competition.

"Those kids have worked their way up to the high school level, and so now the team that we have here are those kids that started with me in elementary school," engineering teacher Christie Schmitt said.

<div>Team 5203G Gremlin</div>
Team 5203G Gremlin

That means the students know the rules like the back of their hands.

The objective is simple: earn as many points as possible. The catch is they have to make sure a device will accurately complete commands.

With soccer-style nets, and a head-to-head tournament like March Madness, robotics competitions marry the strategy behind physical sport and video games.

In just a few weeks, the Ola high schoolers will head to Dallas for the 2024 VEX Robotics World Championship.

"There's like 800 teams when we're coming in, so the odds are not necessarily high," Carson Schmidt said.

But the team called the "Gremlin" – yes, like the car and the movie – has already won droves of competitions.

"We qualified at 'Haunted' by winning the tournament, which is a signature event to go to World. So, we've actually been qualified for World since October. And then we qualified again at Hershey, Pennsylvania. And then, we qualified again at our state championship last month," Schmitt said.

They've reached that success because they've worked to ensure each member of the team plays an appropriate role.

"Programming is evolving. AI is becoming a part of it, and so it's always a constant catch-up to what's new, what's out there. Even some of our prototyping materials for manufacturing are constantly evolving with the 3D printers, injection molders and some of that stuff we can do," Schmitt said.

The experience isn't just for fun. This could be the foundation of a tech or engineering career. The next life-changing invention could come from one of these young minds.

All those out-of-state competitions mean a lot of money spent on travel. Thankfully, nonprofits have sponsored the teens' dreams, even popular franchises like Chick-fil-A have thrown in their support.