The VEX Robotics program in West Michigan continues to grow dramatically each year. Thanks to the efforts of parents and organizers, more than a dozen new competitive robotics programs have sprung up in school districts all over the state. Over the last three years, in our area, major VEX Robotics programs have started in schools including Hudsonville Public Schools, Jenison Public Schools, Grand Rapids Christian Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Caledonia Public Schools, and Portage Public Schools. VEX Robotics is the largest competitive robotics program in the world, with more than 590 teams in Michigan alone.
This rapid growth has put pressure on event organizers all over Michigan to expand the capacity of their VEX tournaments. Only two years ago, it was common to hold 24 team tournaments in West Michigan. This year, events have had huge waitlists and it has become common to run events hosting twice that many teams.
For the past three years, there has been a well-attended Halloween VEX tournament in West Michigan. This fall, Grandville hosted the Halloween tournament and the waitlist quickly grew. We cut registration off at 36 teams, then increased registration to 48 teams, and then let another seven teams in from the waitlist to bring the event up to 55 teams. This was a great opportunity to hold one of the largest events in Michigan – but where were we going to hold it?
Grandville Public Schools has been tremendously supportive of our robotics program here, particularly under superintendents Ron Caniff and Roger Bearup. We have the biggest and best Robotics Center in the state of Michigan, and we regularly host 30-40 teams for weekly robotics league play. Our Robotics Center, however, will not accommodate 55 teams. So we started to look around the District for space. Grandville Public Schools is one of the top-rated Districts in the state, and you can see one of the reasons why when you start to look for competition space in our buildings. Our High School had four major events scheduled on the date of the Halloween tournament, as well as a dozen practice times for sports, the fall play, and activities with other student groups. The middle school was completely booked, as were the gyms and multipurpose rooms at elementary schools across the district. This is one busy district, and our buildings are very highly utilized. Where were we going to hold this huge Halloween tournament?
As usual, the answer came from our own Mike Evele. A founder of the Grandville robotics program in 1998, and a high school physics teacher who can think so far outside the box that we often wonder if there is a box, Mr, Evele asked – “Why don’t we do it in a tent?”
And so we did! On Friday, October 28th, the Grandville High School Robodawgs set up to host a tournament inside a giant circus tent erected outside the Grandville Robotics and Engineering Center. Bleachers were erected and level floors were built up to support competition and practice fields. Lights were hung, field electronics were installed, and power and wireless internet were extended into the tent – using nearly a mile of power and ethernet cable. Tent heaters were brought in, and more than 500 feet of runner was put down to keep teams from walking on the wet ground. We even brought in popcorn and slushy machines!
The 3rd annual Halloween VEX Tournament ran smoothly under the Big Top, and the event saw a finals match that included multiple teams that will certainly play all the way to the World VEX Championship.
Special thanks to Havit Supplies, NAPA Auto Parts, and Custom Electronics for supplying us with the tent, bleachers, tables, chairs, sound boards, cables, and equipment needed to run this event. And to Verdell Hall, Tom Chicklon, Chuck Parks, Rosemary Hepfer, Rick Veldheer, Donna Bos, Tim Bos, Scott Hammond, Peggy Monroe, and the four dozen other adult volunteers who helped us pull this off. Most of all, our hat is off to our own Dr. Evil, without whom we never would have thought about doing it in a tent…….