Aug. 9, 2017 — The Academy’s Breakaway 3937 robotics team was among nine American teams invited to the 2017 China Robotics Challenge in Zhengzhou, China, on July 18-30. Blane Eaken, Evan Hall, Clara Henderson and Anna Westbrook were teamed with students from Lights Out 323, a team from Mountain Home, Arkansas, to compete using Breakaway’s robot, Dreadnought.
“Our mission is to bring science, technology, engineering and math to a global level, and traveling to China is a great way to do that,” said Brian Jones, Academy math teacher and robotics team director. “Their programs are growing rapidly, and they want some of the best teams from around the world to come and teach young and developing teams, and it is humbling to be seen as one of those teams.”
When the students first learned about the trip, they didn’t believe they were actually going to China.
“I checked my email one day and saw that we were invited to go to China for a regional, off-season event,” Hall said. “I just laughed at it.”
Prior to China, the farthest the team had traveled for competition was Houston for the robotics world championship, which Breakaway has competed in five times in the last six years.
“We thought it was a joke because we joke about going to Australia,” Eaken said. “And then we found out about this.”
The Academy students worked with students in the China Urban Youth Robotics Alliance (CUYRA) prior to the competition to help the Chinese teams build FIRST Robotics Competition robots to compete in the games.
“It was difficult at first because of the language barrier,” Hall said. “After the first couple of days, we all got to know each other and were friends. It was really cool to help them build their robot.”
They then competed against teams from Canada, Mexico, Australia and Brazil along with 80 Chinese teams.
“It was interesting to get to compete with so many other teams,” Henderson said. “We’re used to talking openly with the team and explaining our strategy, so it was different because they weren’t able to understand everything we were trying to say. It was difficult at first, but we were able to come up with ways to communicate.”
The team took the opportunity to be representatives not only of their school and their country but also of Christ.
“We met a team from Wisconsin, and they found out we were Christians,” Westbrook said. “I felt like that was a good opportunity to show Christ’s love.”
“While winning and accolades are great, we use this program to bring faith and God where they have never been,” Jones said. “This opportunity opened up many competitive doors for us, but it also opened up a new world for our primary mission, to spread the word of God.”
Along with the other guest teams, the Academy team toured significant Chinese sights such as the Shaolin Temple, UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site Longmen Grottoes, some famous Ming Dynasty architecture, Xi’an Muslim Quarter, Huaqing Hot Spring Scenic Area, and the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses Museum.