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Tallahassee Represent! Local Robotics Team Headed for International Competition


A Tallahassee middle school robotics team is heading to Houston, Texas and possible worldwide fame later this month. They're hoping their hometown supporters can help them out.

Michelle Rutherford is one of the moms whose kids are involved with the area's multiple robotics teams. It's an endeavor she said has essentially exploded over the past 5 years.

"This current season that we're wrapping up we have five FIRST LEGO League teams," she explained. "And then we have one team a level above that called 'FIRST Tech Challenge. We have 45 students at the SSL level and this is just our club. There are 3 teams that started up this year at the School of Arts and Sciences on Thomasville Road and 2 of those teams made it to the regional tournament in their first year, which is really impressive!"

Rutherford's team is called the "Gorillabots" and she noted it's a diverse bunch.

"We have 7 kids on the team. Five of them are home schooled, one goes to Christ Classical Academy, a private school, and the seventh goes to Montford Middle School."

The teams are affiliated with the FIRST Robotics Competition in what's called the LEGO League. That's because LEGO is a key sponsor and produces the MINDSTORMS technology that is used as the robots'operating and control systems.

"The most amazing thing about this is it's more than just LEGOs," Rutherford remarked. "There's a great project component where the kids are trying to solve a real world problem and then also emphasizing the core values of the FIRST organization for inspiration in science and technology."

Meaning the teams have to do the planning and construction of their entries with restricted adult involvement. And now Rutherford said the Gorillabots have ascended to a level of competition that most robotics teams only dream about. Later this month, they'll be headed to this year's worldwide championship in Houston, Texas.

"The fact that these kids are about to go and compete at the international level, it truly is a world festival," Rutherford explained. "There'll be teams from China, Japan, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Ecuador...it's phenomenal! And we're one of 5 teams from Florida."

One of the other Gorillabots moms is Karen Honn. Both of her daughters are involved in local robotics with the younger, Katie, looking forward to the challenge in Houston.

"She is so excited!" Honn exclaimed. "We kind of forced her to do this. My older daughter Alison has done this for several years and loves it."

Rutherford said frantic final preparations are underway.

"The dates of the tournament are April 17 through the 20th." Still unresolved however is the cost of the trip. "For all 7 kids and at least one to two parents per kid, we estimated that would be $15,000 and we've had less than a month to raise that. So we're working hard and having a garage sale on Saturday, April 6 at the Honn's house, 6271 Whittondale Court."

And for supporters who can't make it to the Honn house for the garage sale, Rutherford suggests this alternative.

"Go to GoFundMe and look up 'Send the Gorillabots to the World Championship.' You'll see a crazy picture with a bunch of kids in bright yellow t-shirts and one guy dressed as a banana and one guy dressed as a gorilla."

Tallahassee's own Gorillabots Robotics team, soon on their way to do global battle on behalf of Florida's Capital City.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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