Success in robotics is not new in Harvey County. In fact, between the two programs at Newton and Hesston high schools (which compete in different leagues), it has become fairly commonplace — as both teams have secured their share of regional and state titles over the years.

Hesston High School, for example, which competes in VEX Robotics, has won six state titles in a row. For the first time ever this year, though, the Hesston team will get the chance to claim a state title on its home turf — as it prepares to host the state tournament in the HHS gym this weekend.

Robotics coach (and HHS Technology/Industrial Arts teacher) Trevor Foreman has been helping organize state competition since its inception. With the help of ESSDACK behind it, the VEX Robotics state tournament found a home at the Hutchinson mall. That partnership helped build the competition to the point where organizers needed a new location.

"We just simply outgrew it. When I started eight years ago, us and Hillsboro were the only two schools in the state that competed. Now, there are 110 registered teams, so we just simply outgrew the Hutch mall," Foreman said.

Changes to VEX guidelines created an application process for hosting state, but Foreman's experience organizing past tournaments (including regular season competitions) led Hesston to be selected as the new state tournament site for 2020.

Following qualifying, 24 teams at both the middle-school and high-school levels earned a spot at the state tournament, with some coming from as far as Topeka for competition. Those teams will start competition with team introductions at 9 a.m. Friday (middle school tournament) and Saturday (high school) before getting into matches, which are scheduled to last until 4 p.m. both days.

Getting the chance to host the state tournament in Hesston is something both coaches and competitors alike are looking forward to.

"Basketball teams have home games, football teams have home games; it's rare that robotics gets to have a home meet. The fact that we get to have the state tournament here is very significant," Foreman said. "Plus, given the fact of our success — we got off to an early start with this years ago — the kids are obviously very excited to actually have a home meet that also happens to be state."

This year's game, "Tower Takeover," will see competing teams attempting to stack cubes into designated goals and towers (with points based on cube placement in said towers) — forming alliances to make their way through the tournament.

Quite the sight to behold, according to Foreman, he encourages those unfamiliar with the competition to come see what it's about and support local students — especially given the success the program has had against larger schools from McPherson, Wichita, etc.

"It is extremely unique. It is difficult to explain. It is something like you've never seen before, and the kids in these classes are going to be the ones in positions of power in the years to come. These are smart, motivated, hard-working kids, and what they do, the success they have on the competition arena, they will carry with them into the real world," Foreman said. "I'm very glad that, especially the seniors, get to compete at state at home. I would encourage the public to just come peek for 10 to 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, they'll be able to see four different matches. You'll see something that, trust me, you have not seen before."

Competition will start at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday in the HHS gym (with a concession stand to be operating during the tournament, as well) and admission to the state tournament is free. For more information, call the high school at 620-327-7122.