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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Middleton robotics team wins world championship

TAMPA Opposing team members sometimes sported knit shirts tattooed with corporate logos, a sign they had the bigger, flashier robots. The insiders' buzz had the winner likely coming from within those ranks. But, in an upset, Masquerade, the robotics team from Middleton Magnet High School in Tampa, claimed the prize – the World Championship of the 2012 First Tech Challenge. "It felt too good to be true," said team captain and Middleton sophomore Jason Howard. "It was pretty nerve wracking. We really didn't expect to make it past the division finals." Yet, Masquerade was the best in a field of 128 teams from the United States, China, Romania, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Australia and Saudi Arabia. In all, about 2,100 teams competed in a series of tournaments to reach the world games in St. Louis, Mo., which ended Saturday.
The 12-member team of freshmen and sophomores set a world record of 869 points, well above the tournament's next highest score of 711, and crushing the previous world record of 591 points. In nail-biting, timed matches, student-built and student-driven robots completed tasks, such as stacking crates, rolling a bowling ball into a goal and navigating an obstacle course. A robot that can stack higher and higher earns extra team points. Middleton's robot won the state championship but was height-challenged at the world games. Some teams benefit from sponsorships by corporations, especially ones with engineering divisions, said Kathy Freriks, lead teacher for Middleton's magnet programs. Middleton gets local support from Health Care of Florida, but Freriks said, "Being an inner city school, it's a little tougher. We do car washes. We do bake sales." They also count on parents, and in this case, especially the fathers. "They make time for the school and come out and mentor them," she said. And, Middleton over the past decade has built a solid reputation for producing strong robotics teams. Its three teams – Masquerade, Minotaur and Aionius Tyfonasis – won most of Florida's qualifying tournaments this year and all competed at the state level in Daytona Beach. At St. Louis, Middleton showed that brains can be best brawn, said Freriks. "We did something awesome."

ksteele@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7652

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