A team of Howard County students scored first place in one category of the 2009 International Botball Tournament, an educational robotics competition.
Three teenagers who attend Cedar Brook Academy, a private school in Clarksburg in Montgomery County, worked for about four months to develop a mobile, autonomous robot, winning the judge's choice award at the regional level and topping the Alliance Match category at the international level in July.
"My favorite part for the past couple years has been winning," said Ethan Myers, 16, the team captain, who's been competing annually since sixth grade. His team won first place overall in 2007 and 2008. "But the best part about it is once you get to competition day, and you see your bot actually work and you realize all the hours and hard work you put into it actually paid off."
He and his partners, Caleb and Daniel Woo of Clarksville, spent a couple of hours each night for three or four weeks preparing for the international tournament. But before the regional competition, Myers said, he pulled two all-nighters prepping for the big day. At times, he said, it's felt like a "24/7 job."
It's not just a time crunch: The team members' parents fronted a $2,500 registration fee. Even so, Myers' mother, who pushed Ethan and his older brother to join the tournament years ago, said she thought it was all worth it.
"It's a great way for a child to learn how to program," said Helene Myers, who acts as the team's manager. "And then they just learn so much more than that. They do the entire engineering process."
Ethan Myers, a rising senior, plans to major in engineering when he goes to college and maybe eventually work with robotics. In the meantime, he said, his work with Botball has helped him land a summer internship at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
But he said the program's benefits are more than educational - he's made friends through the process. Since the tournament, he's kept in touch with students from across the nation through Facebook, and they've been discussing the possibility of joining Botball's post-high school league, "Beyond Botball."
"It might happen," he said. "Generally the Beyond Botball people do it just for the fun of it. ... Robots are pretty cool."