WEST VALLEY CITY -- The Woods Cross High School robotics team members were all set to rumble with their robot Thursday morning when they arrived at the Maverik Center for the FIRST Robotics Utah Regional Competition.
Also participating in the event, scheduled through Saturday, are 43 other teams from nine states.
The teams are competing using their hand-built robots designed to pick up and shoot basketballs, to score as many points as possible during matches lasting two minutes and 15 seconds.
The first thing the Woods Cross team needed to do was make sure its robot weighed in at the right amount before engaging in practice rounds. To the chagrin of the 19 team members, their robot was 20 pounds too heavy.
They took off a few noncritical pieces and knew they could start drilling holes in the robot, which was the size of a large recliner.
But they still had a big problem -- they didn't have a drill.
Not panicking, the team asked to have someone announce over the intercom their need for a drill. To their relief, another team responded in minutes.
Teams helping each other out at the big event is not unusual.
Head coach Terry Haws, who has been volunteering with the team for several years, said teams are willing to share parts and tools, even if it means the other team might win with a borrowed part.
But in this sport, it's all about competing alongside friends.
Given that the teams not only compete against each other but also have to compete with each other -- in the events with three-team robots working together to beat the opposing three-team robots -- the students quickly become friends.
"It does get pretty intense," said senior Matt Tolman, the lead programmer for the Woods Cross team.
"We have to not only coordinate our actions with our teammates, but also with two other teams, all while dealing with the three opposite teams."
Walking into the arena feels like a sporting event, with teams chanting, "We've got spirit, how 'bout you?" mixed with rock music in the background.
Having it seem like a sporting event is intentional, said Regional Director Richard Anderson.
"Our concern was that kids felt like the only way they could succeed was in a sport or as a rock star, so we said, let's change the culture," he said.
"The robots are important, but what happens to the kids is the most important."
Haws knows exactly what Anderson is talking about. The impact the program has had on his team is astounding, he said.
"We see what effect it has on the kids. It changes their lives," Haws said.
"We have kids who may not be very social, but by the end of the year, they open up and become part of the group, talking and interacting with others. It's neat to see them evolve and do something they enjoy."
Also important is that anyone can join the team.
"Our goal is to provide an atmosphere where students who like math and science can compete, similar to the football state playoffs," Haws said.
Eighteen teams from Utah are participating in the event, with three teams from the Top of Utah -- Woods Cross High School, Ogden charter school DaVinci Academy of Science & the Arts, and Logan charter school InTech Collegiate High School.
With nearly 2,500 teams participating in regional robotic events worldwide, Utah has been a little slow to get on the bandwagon, probably because of the cost involved, said Woods Cross High instructor Jeanne Wagstaff, who helps facilitate the school's program.
Just registering for the event costs $5,000, which pays for the basic robot kit.
Any additional parts the team wants to use add to the expense, typically another $2,000. Teams then have six weeks to build the robots, which are then boxed up until the day of the regional competition.