MONMOUTH — Eight students from Monmouth Memorial School are to fly to Dallas in early May to compete in the 2022 VEX Robotics World Championship.

The Monmouth students comprise two of 10 teams selected from Maine.

“I’ve never been on a plane. I’m really excited,” said Liam Mitchell, a seventh-grader. “We didn’t know we had been chosen, so we were so excited, but I had to tell them (his teammates) to calm down.”

Mitchell’s father, Seth, started the robotics team at Monmouth Memorial School after realizing students’ interest in Lego robotics, which was already offered at the school. Seth Mitchell put together a grant request and secured funding to buy VEX Robotics, a step up from the Legos, and offered the program to middle and high school students.

In the first year the school offered VEX Robotics, Mitchell began with a small team of students who worked together to figure out how to reach the next level. The following year, the school had four teams, and since then has continued to grow. Now in its fifth year, the club has two middle school and four high school teams.

Seventh-grader Lillian Carlton said making the jump from Lego robotics to VEX was difficult.


“I thought at first that I didn’t belong,” she said. “Then, a few classes later, I got more into it. I could stay calm, write everything down. Then, I got the hang of it.”

Used around the world, VEX Robotics is similar to Legos, but metal, and instructs students in using computer code and engineering skills to build controllable robots.

Seth Mitchell said he has help from Brian Barker, a local engineer, who coaches alongside him and teaches students to program computers. Barker’s son, Timothy, an eighth-grader, is on one of the teams headed the championship. Mitchell is an English teacher-turned-technology integrator at Monmouth Memorial School.

To qualify for the world championship, two of the middle school teams won at a state competition in early March. They won two of the 10 places Maine has to compete in the VEX Robotics World Championship.

One team, McMetal, won the Excellence Award, an all-around award, and the other team, The Bac0nat0rs, won the Design Award, based on an interview process and how well the team kept its design notebook.

“An alien should be able to read our notes and know how to build our robot.” Carlton said.


Reece Angell, a seventh-grader, said when his team, The Bac0nat0rs, learned it had won the Design Award, its members did not realize the award meant they would be traveling to Texas with the McMetal team.

“There was a lot of screaming” after they realized they would be going to Dallas, too, Angell said.

The Bac0nat0rs are in the process of rebuilding their robot to prevent further errors, the students said, while McMetal added more details to its winning design. The teams use code to program the robots to move and pick up objects, which is the goal and earns them points.

Barker said the level at which the middle school and high school students are programing, designing and executing is that of college students. The Monmouth students get to school at 6:30 a.m. almost every day to work on their robots. They also stay after school a couple of days each week for practice.

Carlton said she and classmate Angell had to program what looked like an Xbox controller to command the robot. To find the missing link in the code, they had to compare side by side the computer programming code on both of their laptops to find the error.

The McMetal team sets an object onto a shelf Wednesday at Monmouth Memorial School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We can’t do anything without Mr. Barker or Mr. Mitchell,” Angell said. “They encourage us a lot, and encouraged us to take our robot apart and put it back together.”


Getting the students to Dallas is expected to cost about $10,000, including $1,200 to register each team. The teams will stay for four nights, from Monday to Friday, and are getting most of the money for the trip through fundraisers in which local businesses make donations. The businesses’ names then go onto a banner or might be placed on decals attached to a robot.

The robots will travel by FedEx between Maine and Texas, wrapped in bubble wrap and secured in a box.

Mitchell compared the VEX Robotics World Championship to a rock concert mixed with a science contest. It is held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas, which can hold more than 11,000 people.

The Monmouth students expect to compete with others from around the world. Seth Mitchell said when the team went to the world championship in 2019, it had to use Google Translate to communicate with students from South Korea.

Liam Mitchell of The Bac0nat0rs said he is excited about competing and meeting students from other countries.

“I’m really excited to see people from different cultures,” he said.

Ultimately, the Monmouth students and coaches said they expect competing in Dallas will provide them opportunities to upgrade their skills and learn to build a better robot.

“Every competition,” Angell said, “we get better and gain a better understanding.”

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