Teams find success at school’s first home robotics tournament


Will Sherwood/Chronicle

Jack Austen ’23 points out an efficient path for driver Oren Hartstein ’24 to take to pick up as many hoops with the robot’s mechanical claws as possibbe. The pair, who compete for team 62Z, practice every day after school to prepare for regional VEX Robotics competitions.

Claire Conner

The school hosted the Harvard-Westlake Challenge, its first robotics tournament, with 55 Southern California teams competing in two divisions Feb. 5 and 6. Middle school and upper school teams won each division of the tournament, improving the school’s California State Championship qualification numbers to six teams in total.

The tournament was organized by Middle School Robotics Coach Tripp Reed (Dru ’24), who said over 150 spectators and 500 online spectators watched each day of competition. Tripp Reedsaid the middle school teams’ successful performance on Saturday led to three qualifications for the state championship.

“[The school] had four middle school teams on Saturday in the competition, and one of our middle school teams did end up winning the event,” Tripp Reed said. “Another team made it to the finals, which qualified them for the state championship. Then, a third team qualified for the state championships through the skills challenge.”

Tripp Reed joined the school’s robotics program in 2019 and said the team, which won the 2021 VEX Robotics World Championship, has grown rapidly since it was founded eight years ago.

“It looks like we are moving in the right direction,” Tripp said. “You would be surprised how many students are actually active and participate, especially at the Middle School. We can have 25 to 30 kids at every club meeting. We are starting to make some noise now, and hopefully, the school will take notice.”

Robotics Coach Andrew Theiss said this tournament was more difficult than most other tournaments because more teams attended.

“Since so many tournaments got canceled or moved because of COVID-19, there was so much more demand this year, so this tournament became bigger than first tournaments usually are,” Theiss said.

Team 62A, which won the tournament’s high school division, had already qualified for the California State Championship. This team, run by Dru Reed and Kaito De Anda ’24, also became the first upper school team to win an excellence award for successfully following engineering practices while designing a robot. Dru Reed said the team hopes to build on their skills and successes to attend the VEX Robotics World Championship later this year.

“We really enjoy collaboration,” Dru Reed said. “That is what [helps us succeed as a team] and is what we can actually use in the future. There are lots of ways to qualify for the world championship, and I think that is the goal. Now that we have a new robot, we are looking for more success.”

Tripp Reed said he wants to make the Harvard-Westlake Challenge an annual robotics tournament and would eventually like to host a world championship qualifier event.

“[For]next year, I am working with some other clubs in the area to try to host what is called a signature event, and those events would be direct world championship qualifiers,” Tripp Reed said. “California is one of the most competitive states for robotics, and it is kind of a shame that there are no signature events in Southern California right now. There is one in Northern California, but we hope to bring that world championship qualifier to Southern California next year.”