Zionsville resident advances to Robotics World Championship

Submitted photoROBOTICS CHAMP: Zach Phelps poses for a photo at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., with his team’s robot.

Zach Phelps and Pig Pen are at the VEX Robotics World Championship. Phelps is a freshman at Park Tudor upper school and a lifelong Zionsville resident.

His team, Pig Pen, has had a very successful year and hopes to win the tournament.

Sheldon Phelps is Zach’s father and assists with the robotics program at Park Tudor. He went to cheer the team on in Louisville, Ky.

“This is a great group of kids and this has been a very rewarding season for our team," Phelps said. "We've won 28 awards this year including the U.S. Open National award for excellence.”

The CREATE U.S. Open Nationals were held April 6 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. There were 240 high school teams competing at the event. The award for excellence is the highest recognition a team can receive. It is given on the basis of best all-around performance and takes into consideration the team’s work throughout the year, tournament performance and includes a student interview.

“Winning the excellence award at nationals was very exciting," Zach said. "This award looks at our body of work and how we've made adjustments and what we've done to build our robot. It allowed us to illustrate how our approach has changed and how that change has made us successful.”

VEX robotic competitions are held across the nation for middle school, high school and collegiate students. VEX robots are smaller in size and cost between $2,000 and $3,000. The goal of VEX is to give students an opportunity to apply Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) knowledge through an engineering-based challenge. Students have a few months to design and build the robot and can make adjustments throughout the year.

The 2019 season game is called Turning Point. The game has multiple rows of flags and discs that must be addressed. Competing robots must shoot the flags and move the discs in a timed event.

Sheldon said, “This year’s challenge is one of speed. The robot must do things well and fast because it's a back and forth challenge.”

Zach added, “We've learned a lot from other competitions. We figured out that by getting faster each week and by building a strong offense, we're better. In this game, defense doesn't win but it’s important that your defense is strong. You want to get as many points as possible and then defend your lead. We've learned something new each competition and been able to make the adjustments.”

Pig Pen is made up of four team members — two freshmen and two juniors. Named after the Charles Schultz character, Pig Pen works to allow each team member to participate in the design and build of the robot.

“The team name came from my sixth-grade teacher," Zach said. "I spilled a bucket of parts and the coach started chanting pig pen, the name stuck. I really enjoy working with this team which has two first-year juniors. We each bring a different strength and we work well together.”

Other team members are David Bender, Humza Raza and Olivia Weymuth.

Pig Pen is competing at the VEX World Championships alongside three Zionsville Community Schools.

“It is very gratifying as a parent and coach to see STEM being celebrated and so many kids in our community succeeding,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon is in his fourth year assisting the Park Tudor team.

“D.J Weymuth runs our robotics program," he said. "He offered me an opportunity to assist and it's been a great adventure. We get to meet these students where they are in STEM and help them to understand the engineering process and improve that understanding. Robotics is a great extracurricular activity allowing students to grow at their own speed and breaking down some of the STEM barriers.”

Zach agrees that the program is rewarding, and says he enjoys the opportunity to meet students from around the world.

“My favorite part of being at VEX World Competition is getting to compete with students from other nations," he said. "This is our third trip to worlds and I've made friends with students from China, Taiwan and Canada. It's neat to share this experience and to stay connected throughout the year.”

Pig Pen won the VEX Robotics Indiana State Championship in 2018 and '19. They're ranked fourth at the world competition for robot skills.

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