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Championship bound

The 1501 drive team of operator Alyssa Gilpin, driver
Kendrick Myers, human player Isaac Smelser and technician
Zach Denmen.
The 1501 drive team of operator Alyssa Gilpin, driver Kendrick Myers, human player Isaac Smelser and technician Zach Denmen. Photo provided

The Huntington County 4-H Robotics Team 1501 T.H.R.U.S.T. advanced with an at-large bid to the FIRST Championships in Houston, Texas.  

The competition is April 19-22 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. It also will be available at

The FIRST Championship is a culminating, international event for youth robotics competition season and an annual celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for the community as it prepares young people for the future. The 2023 FIRST Championship is presented by BAE Systems.

Huntington County 4-H Robotics Team 1501 T.H.R.U.S.T. earned the at large bid after registering a semi-finalist finish at the Mishawaka District Event, champion at Greenwood District Event, a Semi-Finalist at the State Championship at Anderson University, and earning the Industrial Design Award at the Mishawaka Event.

“After earning the bid, there isn’t much we can do to prepare the team and robot due to the quick turn around of less than a week,” business mentor Todd Gilpin told The Tab. “Thankfully, the robot is still in good shape after the tough competition at the state championships.

“The biggest challenge is the funding and logistics of transporting a robot and team from Huntington to Houston with less than a week to prepare.”

Twenty-six area youth are involved with the Huntington program.

“Our team ranges from seventh grade to twelfth grade,” Gilpin said. “Most are in high school.”

Middle school students on the team are known as “shadows,” he continued.

“Shadows are similar to an apprentice learning from the older students to be prepared once they reach high school,” Gilpin explained.

The Huntington team has a long history.

FIRST began in 1989, and Team 535 from Huntington was created in 1999. Team 535 was a high school program that was later dropped in 2003. Team 1501 T.H.R.U.S.T. was boar in 2004 and was organized through 4-H.

Starting with the game announcement on Jan. 7, teams have been designing, prototyping, fabricating, manufacturing, and programming roughly four-foot-tall, 125-pound robots that compete in a basketball court-sized field.  

This year’s game, Charged UP presented by HASS, involves collecting cones and inflatable cubes and placing them on three levels. To end the game, the robot is then required to balance on a pivoted platform. This year FIRST added a coopertition bonus. If both teams completed a task, they each received a bonus towards advancement. Competing teams had to work together to achieve this. 

FIRST Championship involves more than 600 teams from around the world competing in a 3-day competition in Houston.

This is the seventh time Huntington County 4-H Robotics has advanced to the World Championship. Their best finish was in 2016 when they won the Archimedes Division and finished as a top eight team in the world.

Combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. FIRST Robotics

Competition is the ultimate Sport for the Mind.

High-school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.

The popularity of robotics has grown tremendously over the years.

“I believe there are a couple of contributing factors,” Gilpin said. “As technology advances, the entry costs are reduced. With programs like FIRST Lego League, students can be introduced at a low cost.

“The second is the availability of information. As more options are available to watch programming through streaming, the audience is increased. FIRST events are streamed on Twitch and available worldwide.

“Finally, I believe there has been a push for STEM education in the past several years. This has provided the needed funding and visibility of programs.”

Students participating in FIRST are eligible to apply for over $80 million dollars in scholarships from leading universities, colleges, and companies. Since its beginning, FIRST has significantly improved students’ attitudes towards math, science, graphic design, marketing, and teamwork. Students who participate show increased interest in pursuing internship and employment opportunities in science and engineering.