WHITEWRIGHT — Students, parents, bands and fans will fill the Garland Special Events Center arena Saturday with cheers and chats, but their focus won't be on a sporting event. Fans will be cheering on the robots of 56 high schools including Whitewright High School, as they compete in the Texas BEST Robotics Regional Championship. The regional competition includes teams from all across Texas and New Mexico.

WHITEWRIGHT — Students, parents, bands and fans will fill the Garland Special Events Center arena Saturday with cheers and chats, but their focus won’t be on a sporting event. Fans will be cheering on the robots of 56 high schools including Whitewright High School, as they compete in the Texas BEST Robotics Regional Championship. The regional competition includes teams from all across Texas and New Mexico.

“I think its a great program to get students involved. It teaches them a lot of different things,” said Rodney Stafford, the Whitewright team sponsor. “It teaches them to work together toward a common goal. It gives them an opportunity to compete.”

The BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) began in 1993 as a competition for 14 schools in the Texoma area. It has grown into the largest school-based robotics competition in the U.S. with more than 850 schools, 12,000 students and 4,000 volunteers participating at 41 licensed competition sites in 15 states.

Students are given a box of miscellaneous parts, four motors and electronics, along with other basic materials and six weeks to construct a robot that will perform specific tasks.

“We started out with a box full of stuff and some wood and go from there,” said Nathan Poindexter, a senior at Whitewright who has been on the team for three years.

Each year holds a different theme. This year it’s bugs. Teams must use their robots to lift foam balls, a flexible weighted bag and HEXBUG Nanos — battery-operated critters about the size of a roach that scurry about in a container. Students must use their remote-controlled robots to move the items to various scoring areas.

The first level of competition is the hub competition and teams advance from there. Nineteen hubs will be represented at the regional competition on Saturday.

Four robots compete on a single field for each 3-minute game, so students must move quickly to score as many points as possible.

“You get so used to it that it’s not a big deal,” said Tyler Purdom, another senior on the team.

However, before students can take their robots to the field they must first design them. Whitewright students said they normally use the same design for the base and wheels of their bot, but redesign the claw.

Challenges to this year’s game include trying to construct a claw that will pick up the HEXBUGs and a robot that can cope with the weighted bag on an extended arm without tipping.

Students learn engineering techniques and basic programing and other parts of the program draw on skills in writing, presentation and many other aptitudes.

“I think it is (a better learning environment) for a lot of students because it’s such a hands-on type of program,” Stafford said.

He said it utilizes talents from all kinds of students, attracting those who may not fit somewhere else, “students that may or may not be involved in other activities at school. I think it’s unique. You build a robot from scratch using the materials list that you’re provided. (Students) have an opportunity to work together for a common goal and a common purpose. I think it brings students together from a variety of backgrounds.”

Students will show of their skills at Saturday’s competition, and after three hours of daily driving practice this week the Whitewright team seems pretty confident.

“We hope to do well,” Stafford said. “The competition is really tough, of course. You’ve got some great teams from all across Texas and New Mexico.”

The 14 members of the Whitewright team are: Dylan Bottoms, Nathanael Decker, Quincy Ferrill, Lee Grimm, Blake Henderson, Jacob Morris, Cole Peck, Nathan Poindexter, Marshall Purdom, Tyler Purdom, Joey Reynolds, Dane Robinson, Aimee Rogers, and Josh Stenger