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St. Louis high schools compete in world robotics competition

Updated 2:30 p.m. May 1 with information of fourth school — Four local high schools scored well enough in district and regional robotics competitions to participate in the FIRST robotics championship held in St. Louis this weekend: North Technical, University City, Ladue Horton Watkins and Westminster Christian Academy.

North Tech, a high school in Florissant that’s part of St. Louis County’s Special School District, is in its rookie year and competed with just three members.

“We’re kind of like the underdogs,” said North Tech senior Charles Wyatt. “No matter what happens, I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.”

Wyatt drove the robot during a three-on-three qualifying match on Friday, and used a defensive strategy to stop the competition from making baskets while the other two teams in their alliances scored points.

“It’s like putting together a puzzle. It’s always a good feeling to put pieces together where they belong, to watch it come together as a plan and to execute it. That’s the best feeling in the world to have something go as planned,” said Wyatt, who hopes to study aeronautical engineering in college and work for NASA someday.

The Westminster Christian Academy team competed in the world championship for the fifth time this year. The Westminster team boasts more than 100 members — about 10 percent of the school.

Senior Sydney Thomas joined the team as a sophomore, thinking she’d practice her business skills, but a friend put her on the engineering team instead.

Westminster Christian Academy senior Sydney Thomas poses outside her school's pit with her teammate Jack Rahal.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Westminster Christian Academy senior Sydney Thomas poses outside her school's pit with her teammate Jack Rahal.

“I had planned on going into theater actually,” said Thomas. “And after joining this team and being a part of it, I am now pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering and neuroscience. So the program’s really changed my entire life actually and the trajectory of it. So getting involved was one of the best things that could have happened to me.”

While robotics teams are often male dominated, Thomas said her team has more girls than most — about 40 percent.

“We’ve had a really big increase in the number of girls interested and involved. A lot of our girls are on business team. A lot are also on engineering,” said Thomas. “I think the biggest thing is just getting girls to feel confident enough to step up and speak up. And once they do though, we work really hard to make everyone feel like their voice is being heard.”

The FIRST robotics championships drew 20,000 students from all over the world to St. Louis to compete in four categories. According to the organization, more than 600 Missouri schools have younger teams affiliated with FIRST and more than 200 schools have teams competing in the middle school and high school age range.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.