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Eleanor Roosevelt’s Robotics Team Competes at World Championship

This April, 17 students from Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School traveled to Dallas, bringing 3 robots that they had designed and built. They traveled to the 2024 VEX robotics World Championship, which is billed as the largest robotics competition in the world. This year, 820 robots from 41 countries competed at this high-energy 3-day event. Each spring since 2007, the VEX Game Design Committee has announced a new robotics challenge. To the best of the knowledge of the Eleanor Roosevelt team, only once before has a team from Prince George’s County qualified to compete at the World Championship. That happened in 2022 when one robot from Eleanor Roosevelt qualified.[1]

opening ceremony at robotics world championship
Credit: Owen Kelley

The photo above shows the opening ceremony of the 2024 VEX high school robotics World Championship. The opening ceremony occurred in the mostly full 9,800-seat arena next to the Dallas convention center on April 25. In the shadows are seated the contingent of students from Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School. VEX robotics is one of the three robotics competition programs that are most popular among high school students.

VEX robotics is famous for its large, high-energy World Championship event, held annually. Every year, thousands of high school teams dream of making it to Worlds, but for most, it remains only a dream.[2]

The robotics team at Eleanor Roosevelt had to win two tiers of competitions in order to qualify to attend the World Championship. First, they had to win at one of a dozen or so local competitions that were held within a two-hour drive of Greenbelt between November and February. Then, they had to win at the Maryland state championship that was held on March 2 in Baltimore.

The robots look like giant Erector sets about the size of a microwave oven. They fit within a cube 18 inches on a side. The robots are made of metal beams screwed together, electric motors, gears, wheels, chains, plastic sheets, pneumatic pistons, rubber mesh, and the occasional zip tie. Each robot has an onboard computer and radio receiver. The students use a hand-held game controller to operate the robot remotely.

The first part of this blog post describes the World Championship and the second part explains how the team got there and what comes next.

The 2024 World Championship

Opening Ceremony: April 25, 2024

The opening ceremony at the 2024 World Championship set the tone for the three-day event. Speakers told the teams that, having qualified to compete here, they should play hard but also take advantage of the chance to get to know fellow robot enthusiasts from around the world. Before arriving, the Eleanor Roosevelt students had exchanged ideas with other teams on VEX forums and analyzed YouTube videos of their robots. The World Championship was their only chance to meet these students in person.

During the opening ceremony, each country that sent a delegation was invited to have students carry their flag into the arena. Over 40 countries attended. The crowd cheered as students from various countries took the stage briefly.[3]

countries at the World Championship

At one point during the opening ceremony, graduating seniors were asked to stand and be recognized for their years in the VEX program.

senior standing at opening ceremony
Eleanor Roosevelt senior Felix Hass stands during the opening ceremony of the 2024 VEX high school World Championship.

The opening and closing ceremonies were held in the sports arena connected to the Dallas convention center. The shows included smoke machines, light shows, live video on giant screens, t-shirt guns, and inspirational speakers. The shows were in part pep rallies for robotics.

Group Photo

The Eleanor Roosevelt students attending the World Championship were divided into three groups that each built their own robot, namely robots 53C, 53E, and 53F. The entire Eleanor Roosevelt contingent posed for the following photo at the Dallas convention center. Their uniform is a t-shirt with the team name: Area 53 Alien Raiders. To understand the name, consider that VEX robotics identifies each team by a number, and in Eleanor Roosevelt’s case, it’s 53. Years ago, the students had fun coming up with a team name related to that number.  “Area 53 Aliens” is a play on the Area 51 of UFO fame, and “Raiders” comes from the fact that the raider is the Eleanor Roosevelt High School mascot.

the Eleanor Roosevelt contingent at the World Championship
The Eleanor Roosevelt High School robotics team at the 2024 VEX high school World Championship. Credit: Erik Blaufuss.

The photograph above shows, kneeling in front, Turkish foreign-exchange student Akif Albayrak, David Blaufuss, and Krish Patel (left to right). Standing are Sameer Kumar, faculty sponsor Karen Bogoski, Joshua Guzman, Evan McClelland, John Kelley, Violet Ridge, Alan Morales, Meghana Noojipady, Joy Oladimejij, Trinh Tran, Von Skaggs, Max Nelkin, Isaiah Blanc, Felix Hass, Brendan Hille, and coach Karl Hille (left to right).

Preparing to Compete

Each of the 820 robots that competed at the World Championship had a booth in a giant hall of the Dallas convention center. The booth was called the team’s “pit,” and it was where students stored tools and worked on their robots.

Each robot had to pass inspection during the first morning of the World Championship or it would be disqualified. Eleanor Roosevelt’s robot 53E had to remove a small part that the inspectors deemed to be non-standard. The team sent a runner across the hall to request a replacement part from another Maryland team, team 9080 from Hagerstown. Upon reinspection, robot 53E did pass with little time remaining before the deadline.

53E pit at World Championship
Eleanor Roosevelt students work in the pit of robot 53E while Akif Albayrak (holding camera) documents the action.

With inspections over, the teams decorated their pits to represent their home communities. When visiting other teams’ pits, student would collect stickers and other freebees.

water bottle with stickers
The water bottle of an Eleanor Roosevelt student covered with stickers collected at the World Championship.

Approximately once an hour during the World Championship, each robot competed on a field with a randomly selected partner robot and against two robots of the opposing alliance. The two alliances are always called the Red and Blue Alliances. These names reflect the red or blue license places that are attached temporarily to each robot to distinguish them during a match.

Between matches, teams were busy with two tasks. They had to patch up any damage to their bot from the sometimes hockey-like pushing and shoving during a match. Other team members would visit the pit of the team that they would be forming an alliance with for their next match. They would discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their robots so they could better collaborate and increase their chance of winning.

There was a lot of walking required to get these tasks done at an event on the epic scale of the World Championship. One Eleanor Roosevelt student reported that her fitness watch recorded that she took 30,000 steps on the first day of the competition. This many steps represents about 11 miles!

robot 53E being carried
Alan Morales, Joy Oladimejij, and John Kelley walk their robot from the competition field to their pit.

Parents, coach Karl Hille, and faculty sponsor Karen Bogoski visited the pits of the three Eleanor Roosevelt robots to make sure that the students were handling the stress of the competition and having fun.

coach Hille talking with students
Coach Hille checks in with students from Eleanor Roosevelt at the World Championship.

The 2-Minute Matches

Each academic year, there is a different VEX challenge, which defines how robots can score points that year. This year, robots scored points by throwing, carrying, or pushing green balls into goals, somewhat like a robot equivalent of a rugby game. Unlike rugby, the VEX game is played with up to 60 balls simultaneously on a 12-by-12-foot field. At the World Championship, every team played ten of these 2-minute-long matches.

During the first 15 seconds of each match, a robot is only allowed to operate autonomously, which means it is controlled by a student-written program loaded onto the robot’s onboard computer (affectionately called the robot’s brain). For the rest of the match, a student drives the robot using a two-handed game controller that communicates with the robot brain using a radio transmitter. During the last 15 seconds of a match, a robot can earn bonus points by lifting itself off the ground using either a chin-up bar or vertical pole mounted to the playing field.

To operate either autonomously or under driver control, the robot runs a student-written computer program loaded onto the onboard computer. The program is written in the C++ language.

adjusting the computer program
At her robot’s pit, Meghana Noojipady adjusts her computer program for autonomous control of robot 53E at the 2024 VEX World Championship.
C++ code for robot
A screenshot of C++ source code for robot 53E. Credit: Felix Hass.

Sometimes, adjustments need to be made to the robot when the students are already lined up for a match. Strategy discussions may occur here too. All members of the team are allowed to participate at this point, as shown in the two photos below.

working on robot in line for match
Left to right, computer programmer Isaiah Blanc reaches for the controller of robot 53C, while Max Nelkin and Evan McClelland stand by to assist Brendan Hille who is attaching license plates to the robot.
talking at the World Championship
Eleanor Roosevelt students discussion strategy at the 2024 World Championship.

Once the team carries their robot to a competition field, only the three-student “drive team” is allowed to remain on the side of the field. The photo below shows the drive team for Eleanor Roosevelt robot 53C, shortly before they walk to a competition field.

robot 53C drive team
Brendan Hille, Evan McClelland, and Sameer Kumar pose for a photo with robot 53C.

During a 2-minute match, one student drives the robot and the other two members of the drive team assist by either loading triballs (triangular-shaped miniature soccer balls) into the robot or shouting directions to the driver. With four robots moving at once, it would be impossible for a driver working alone to capitalize on the openings that can appear and disappear in a second.

robot 53E in a match
Members of the drive team of robot 53E in action: Joy Oladimejij, John Kelley, and Alan Morales.

During the World Championship, ten matches are run simultaneously throughout the day in different corners of the sprawling convention center. Each match is broadcast on a 12-foot-wide screen above the playing field for the audience to see and also live-streamed for viewers back home.

robot 53F before match
The view from above shortly before Eleanor Roosevelt robot 53F begins its highest scoring match at the 2024 World Championship.

At the top of the image shown above, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Von Skaggs is seen in a last-minute strategy discussion with his alliance partner, a team from Wisconsin. He is wearing the Maryland flag as a cape. Many teams brought state or country flags with them to the World Championship and displayed them in creative ways. During this match, Eleanor Roosevelt’s alliance scored 105 points, which was their highest score at the World Championship.[4]

The Final Match: April 27, 2024

During the last afternoon of the World Championship, the top 20 robots competed in the large arena next to the Dallas convention center.

In the final match, the underdog won. The upset victory went to the ninth seeded alliance, composed of a robot from the post-industrial city of Pittsburgh and a robot from Shanghai, which is China’s largest industrial city. This alliance beat the second seeded alliance, composed of a pair of robots from Silicon Valley and Los Angeles.[5]

How the Team Made it to Worlds
and What Comes Next

The Preseason (the Spring and Summer of 2023)

Eleanor Roosevelt has competed in the VEX program since 2010, but has qualified only once before this year to compete at the World Championship.

The road to the 2024 World Championship started a year ago when the challenge for this school year was announced in April 2023. The Eleanor Roosevelt students immediately started strategizing about how to build a robot optimized for this challenge.

In the spring of 2023, coach Hille required that students design their robots in 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software before they could began to build. He did so because, the prior academic year, the students had wasted months building and taking apart robots with incomplete, poorly thought-out designs. Also new this year, coach Hille announced scrimmages before the first out-of-town tournament in the fall. These scrimmages helped the students discover problems with their robots sooner.

Eleanor Roosevelt students use the Onshape CAD software to design their robots. This software allows different team members to edit simultaneously parts of a robot and to leave comments on each other’s work. The basics of Onshape are taught in courses at Eleanor Roosevelt. At robotics practices, however, experienced team members teach freshmen advanced features of Onshape.

design of robot 53E
A 3D rendering of robot 53E as it was designed for the World Championship. Credit: John Kelley.

The students were able to keep working through the summer of 2023 because, since the COVID pandemic, the team has had a robotics workshop a mile from the high school. The workshop is located on the campus of the Washington Education Zone, a facility formerly owned by Washington Bible College.

Eleanor Roosevelt's robot workshop
The workshop of Eleanor Roosevelt’s robotics team at the Washington Education Zone.

The above photos of the team’s workshop were taken shortly before a practice began on a Friday afternoon. The left panel shows robot 53B sitting on top of its transportation box. In the background are team members Juan Salazar, David Blaufuss, and Michael Thoundayil. The right panel shows a triball sitting on the edge of the 12-by-12-foot practice field set up permanently in the workshop. Additional students seen in the right photo are John Kelley, Violet Ridge, and Meghana Noojipady.

Highlights of the 2023-24 Regular Season

In December 2023, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a competition in the school’s cafeteria. About 200 people attended and 32 robots competed.[6]

robot 53D at Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt robot 53D competes at the tournament hosted at the school on December 16, 2023. Photo credit: Glen Blanc.

In the above photo from December 2023, Makhi Epps talks with a member of the team allied with him for this match. To the right are his teammates Ajibola Ajani and Ishika Saha, who helped build robot 53D.

Mayor Jordan at Eleanor Roosevelt
Joy Oladimejij loads a triball into robot 53E while Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan looks on during the tournament hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt in December 2023.

Meeting for two three-hour practices a week almost year round, the students form friendships. The Eleanor Roosevelt students who built robot 53E formed a rock band in 2024. The photo below shows The Red Alliance in concert: John Kelley (cello), Allan Morales (guitar), Violet Ridge (drums), and Meghana Noojipady (piano).

the band for robot 53E
The Red Alliance performs in the Eleanor Roosevelt auditorium on March 8, 2024.

The 2024 Maryland State Championship

The last hurdle to reaching the 2024 World Championship was winning a qualifying award at the Maryland state championship held in Baltimore on March 2, 2024. Three of the six robots built by Eleanor Roosevelt students made it to the semi-final round of the state championship. Two of them won the final match: robots 53C and 53F. Becoming state champions qualified these two robots to compete at the VEX World Championship.

There are other ways qualify for the World Championship. At the state championship, a panel of judges chooses winners of several such awards.

For example, the judges review the engineering notebook that each team keeps about their design decisions, testing procedures, and self-evaluation of their robot. Excellence in this area determines the team that wins the Design award at the state championship.

robot 53E engineering notebook
The engineering notebook for robot 53E, consisting of two volumes of text, photos, and diagrams.

Eleanor Roosevelt students cheered at the end of the 2024 Maryland state championship when it was announced that robot 53E won the Design award, qualifying it to compete at the World Championship.[7]

Maryland state championship
Eleanor Roosevelt students celebrate at the conclusion of the Maryland state championship on March 2, 2024. Photo credit: Glen Blanc.

It costs thousands of dollars for 17 students and 3 robots to travel to Dallas, Texas, so the booster club associated with Eleanor Roosevelt’s robotics team launched an emergency fundraising campaign a few days after the state championship. A number of philanthropic organizations, area businesses, and parents donated generously to this campaign. By April 2024, the needed funds had been raised.[8]

donors to the Eleanor Roosevelt robotics club
Donors to the Eleanor Roosevelt High School Robotics Booster Club.

After the 2024 World Championship: Looking Ahead

For the next few years, the team won’t have to worry about lacking funds to attend the World Championship should the students qualify. Funds have been set aside for this purpose thanks to a generous donation from the Neal Peter Memorial Fund.

It is difficult to win a spot at the VEX World Championship, but the Eleanor Roosevelt students are undaunted. Within an hour of the challenge for the 2024-25 academic year being revealed at the closing ceremony of the 2024 World Championship, the students were already brainstorming about building a new robot.

Leaving the convention center on April 27, the students who had built robot 53E stopped for a late dinner at a nearby restaurant. During that meal, they took out paper and sketched ideas for next year’s robot. One student attempted to work out the optimal scoring strategy on the back of a napkin.

While eating vegan food, one student said, “I think we need a claw,” and another asked, “What if we get a negative score?” One said, “Next year we are going to do things differently.”


For more information about the team, see the Greenbelt Online blog post about their adventures in the 2022-23 academic year or the team’s website. Unless otherwise noted, the photos in the present blog post were taken by Owen Kelley. The author is a parent of a team member and serves as the treasurer of the team’s booster club.

[1] The first time a world championship was held for VEX was in 2008, but VEX started one year earlier in 2007. The list of teams participating in the World Championships from 2015 to 2024 includes no team from Prince George’s County, Maryland, except for 1 ERHS robot in 2022 and 3 ERHS robots in 2024. Robotevents.com no longer provides team lists for World Championships held in 2008 to 2014. For this reason, it is merely Eleanor Roosevelt team lore that no Prince George’s County team reached the VEX World Championship during those years. This belief is plausible because the Eleanor Roosevelt team has long been the strongest team in the county and Eleanor Roosevelt began participating in the VEX program in 2010. The VEX Game Design Committee designs the game, announces the rules, and resolves questions of how to interpret the rules. The Committee includes members of both the for-profit VEX corporation that builds the game elements and the non-profit Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation that oversees VEX tournaments.

[2] The arena can seat 9,800. The two high school robotics competition programs other than VEX are FTC and FRC. The full name of the program in which Eleanor Roosevelt participates is VEX V5 Robotics Challenge (VRC) or just VEX for short. In 1989, FRC (First Robotics Challenge) started, and it featured large robots weighing up to 125 lbs. In 2004, FTC (First Tech Challenge) was founded, and it featured smaller robots. The program in which Eleanor Roosevelt has participated in recent years, i.e., VRC/VEX, was founded in 2007 as an offshoot of FTC.

[3] 820 teams at this event from 41 countries, see the Excel spreadsheet “Teams XLS” at robotEvents.

[4] While 105 points is an impressive score, Eleanor Roosevelt lost this match (Research Division, qualification match #193) to the blue alliance who scored 118 points. Two days earlier, Eleanor Roosevelt’s robot 53F won its first match by a wide margin, with a score of 93.

[5] 2:54:31 into broadcast see Cupertino and Claremont, California: vexworlds.tv.

[6] Greenbelt News Review, 21 Dec 2023, page 11, and 22 Dec 2024, page 15.

[7] Greenbelt News Review 14 March 2024, page 16.

[8] Non-profit and corporate donors to the Eleanor Roosevelt High School Robotics Booster Club include the Neal Peter Memorial Fund (Rockville), Bahethi Family Foundation (Vienna, VA), Maryland Space Business Roundtable, Auxiliaries of the Greenbelt American Legion Post 136, Impulse City (Hyattsville), Banish Pest (Laurel), Agile Care Enterprises (Baltimore), Pro Spex (Laurel), ERHS Parent Teacher Student Association (Greenbelt), Sampson Properties of Greenbelt, City Renewables (Washington DC), and Properties by Demeji (Upper Marlboro).

Follow Owen A Kelley:
Owen Kelley is an atmospheric scientist who has lived in Greenbelt for 25 years. He writes occasionally for the Greenbelt Online blog and Greenbelt News Review.

2 Responses

  1. Katherine Jarva
    | Reply

    This is an exciting story! I had read previous accounts of the robotics successes at Roosevelt, and this brings them altogether and adds even more. We are definitely cheering for Roosevelt at VEX2025 – and all the other great adventures going on at ERHS. Greenbelt is great in so many ways. Congraulations to all of the students, and to their families, for this great accomplishment. Go Raiders.

    • Owen A Kelley
      | Reply

      Thank you for your comments and well wishes. It has definitely been an intense year for the students on the robotics team.

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