The Barnesville Middle School Robotics Team claimed "gold" Saturday, Feb. 10 when they claimed First Place for Skills and Alliance Robotics competition at Elyria out of an 18-team field. The next stop is state competition March 2-3 in Columbus where 50 qualifying teams from more than a dozen Ohio schools will square-off.

The team is coached by Jon Jordan, Project Lead the Way teacher at Barnesville Middle School. The Barnesville program is associated with Project Lead the Way Ohio. Jordan also coaches the five-member Barnesville High School team.

Project Lead the Way is a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of science and technology graduates in the United States. The program helps students accomplish skills in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

This is the third year Barnesville teams have competed in VEX Robotic Competition presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation.

"There are no kits for this. We all start with a pile of metal, some motor and sensors," Jordan explains. "My favorite thing is to see all the different ways people come up with to attack the same objective."

In December, Barnesville hosted a similar competition that attracted 38 middle school and high school teams from 12 Ohio and West Virginia schools. Jordan organized the local event.

Unlike school sports competition, Jordan notes "there are a number of competitions throughout the year. All are state qualifiers. You can attend as many as you like, but you have to win one in order to qualify for the state competition."

"It is always helpful to get in a competition early. You can see what other team’s ideas are and adapt."

There are two forms of competition, Jordan says. Each team competes individually for robotic Skills followed by Alliance competition when teams are paired. Early, team Alliances are chosen by lot. As the competition moves forward, an Alliance of three teams with the highest score is declared event winner. Barnesville, the highest scoring individual team at Elyria, is joined by two other teams moving on to the state competition.

Barnesville Middle School teams were state runners-up in 2016, the first year for the local program, and made the state semi-finals last year.

The Barnesville program is unique for Belmont County and the area. Zanesville and Dover represent the nearest schools that participate in the Project Lead the Way program, the instructor points out.

Next up for Barnesville Schools competitors is Feb. 24 when high school team members accompany Jordan to Marengo north of Columbus to see if they can also qualify for State.