The estimated total attendance for last week’s FIRST Robotics Arkansas Regional and Searcy Beats and Eats ’Tinkerfest at Harding University was 4,000, according to Beats and Eats theme coordinator Tim Westbrook.
“Over the course of the two days [with the robotics tournament in Rhodes-Reaves Field House on Friday-Saturday], I would say we were getting close to 2,500 people ”averaged per day, Westbrook said,“ because you had about 800 people participating between coaches and teams and parents that were spectators. We had a lot of local people come through and watch over the two days. ”
The Arkansas Regional started with a set-up day Thursday before the first day of the tournament was held Friday, along with Tinkerfest, and the championship round took place Saturday. Although 20 teams were expected, 19 participated.
Westbrook said one team was from Mexico, another from Massachusetts and the rest were from Arkansas and the states that border it. From what he could tell, he said all of the teams enjoyed the games and the facilities.
He said without Harding University and the Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission, which provided funding for the tournament and Tinkerfest, “the event would not have been able to take place. We loved having it. We loved hosting it in the Rhodes-Reaves Field House. ”
He said the community also benefited from statewide media attention from the tournament being featured on KATV, Channel 7’s “Good Morning Arkansas” on Friday, and The Buzz 103.7’s “Out of Bounds” was there to talk about it and how it brought people to Searcy. ”
“We loved the fact that KATV, Channel 7 in Little Rock was there to feature it on Good Morning Arkansas [on Friday] and we loved the fact that Out of Bounds on The Buzz [103.7] was there to talk about it and how it brought people to Searcy. ”
On Friday morning, Harding was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award by the Arkansas Regional. Westbrook said this is considered a “pretty big deal in the FIRST Robotics world. It can go to an individual or organization and this time, it was awarded to Harding. ”
The tournament itself, Westbrook said, “was a tough battle but the Team 16 Bomb Squad from Mountain Home won and [Harding Academy’s] Breakaway’s team was runner-up, so it was good. ”
The game the teams played is called Rapid React and it is sponsored by Boeing, he said. “If you can imagine airline cargo-like behind-the-scenes robots running around throwing cargo around, that’s kind of how the game went.”
Three teams form “alliances with every match and so it’s always three-on-three, and for the first 38 matches, all the team assignments were random and we call that the qualification round,” Westbrook said. “So every time a team takes the field they are randomly matched with two other teams and they compete against the other alliance.
“So at the end of the qualifying rounds, the top seed was Team 16 Bomb Squad from Mountain Home, the second seed team was the team from Mexico (they are called 4635 Botbusters), Harding Academy’s Breakaway 3937 finished in third place.”
He said those three teams formed alliances “at the end of the day the championships were between Botbusters, Bomb Squad and a team called the Tuskin Raiders Team 6586 [from Texarkana] formed one alliance and the other team that played in the finals was Breakaway 3937 from Searcy, Team 5454 Obsidian from Bentonville and the third team was 7483 Mechanically Challenged from Viola. ”
Harding Academy robotics coach Brian Jones felt that even though his team finished runner-up, “the weekend went really well.”
“It’s kind of two-sided for us,” Jones said. “We are the event hosts and we’re also competing and all the crazy of this event. We’re responsible for helping the teams have a good time and a great place to compete, so I thought overall it went really, really well. I thought all the teams that came in from all the states and Mexico had a really good time. ”
Jones said something that is unique about robotics teams is that they want to compete and win but they want to create a community that allows people to be creative and to explore academically along with the competitive side.
“As a team, I felt like my team stepped up,” he said. “They were able to handle themselves in really tough situations sometimes without me, because again we are coordinating an event so I’m busy sometimes handling some issues with the event and the kids have to step up and handle it themselves, and they did.
“I mean, they rose to the challenge. Being finalists stinks; my kids wanted that championship, but still they grew a lot. The robot got better and better. We are definitely going to benefit at Worlds from it. ”