Wearing a white lab coat, Discovery High School senior Miles Huff knew his dreams were bigger than what was taking place inside the Widefield High School gym. On Saturday, the school hosted a robotics competition that attracted junior high and high school students from schools up and down Interstate 25 and as far as Aspen.
"I want to build a spaceship," said Huff, who, along with two classmates, competed in the FIRST Technical Challenge that asked students to design, build, program and operate robots. "I want to fly to space, take a few pictures and fly back down."
He was talking about an actual spaceship, not one the size of a toy. He paused for a moment, thought about what he said and knew he had a long path before him if he wanted to achieve that engineering goal.
"But this is a first step," he said, referring to the robotics competition.
Saturday's event was the southern Colorado qualifier for the state finals set for Feb. 18, said organizer Jack Dodge. It is part of a competition created by the nonprofit FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
At Widefield High, 20 teams - with names like Control-Alt Defeat, Overdrive and Terror Bytes - competed for a state spot. Only six teams advanced. But Kevin Duren, executive director of secondary learning for Widefield School District 3 and a co-organizer of Saturday's event, said it wasn't about winning.
"The importance of having this here is to inspire our kids, our community to get involved in robotics," he said, adding that some students don't enjoy going to engineering and computer science classes. "Sometimes kids don't like to go into those classes because they're scared of it."
In Saturday's robotics challenge, teams were assigned specific tasks for their robots, such as pushing buttons, throwing balls into baskets and lifting balls and placing them in a basket.
"They design the robots based on what they want to do to get the maximum amount of points," Duren said. "Some teams like to go after the big balls, which takes up the whole time. Other teams decide to do a lot of repetition, a lot of different tasks and accumulate a lot of points."
Nonetheless, each task encourages the students to think critically and learn how to problem solve, organizers said.
Huff and his two Dr. Robotics teammates - also sporting white lab coats - said the competition is a learning experience. They learn how to program and design robots, and then work as a team through various assignments.
"We've been learning a lot, not only as individuals but as a group," said Rae Asher, also a Discovery High senior. "We let ourselves have fun. Yeah, it's a competition but as long as we have fun, that's the best you can ask for."