Harding Academy’s robotics team, Breakaway 3937, hosted the FIRST Robotics Arkansas regional tournament in the Rhodes-Reaves Field House last weekend. High school robotics teams from across the U.S. and Mexico competed in hopes to advance to the World Championships in Houston, Texas.
Breakaway 3937 has already qualified for this year’s world competition at the Orlando regional competition March 11-12. Breakaway was established in 2012 and has been very successful each season since then. They have advanced to the world championships every year except one.
Harding junior David Breezeel was a member of Breakaway 3937 for four years while in high school. He explained what goes on at one of these tournaments.
“Tournaments are three major days,” Breezeel said. “Thursdays, depending on the competition, will be a practice match. Friday and Saturday will be qualifications, and then Saturday afternoon is the awards ceremony and finals. A machine will generate the schedule and gives the teams who they play with and who they play against. Each team will have 9-11 matches, and then Saturday — based on their rankings — they get to pick an alliance that they go and compete with for the elimination rounds.”
This is Harding’s first time hosting the regional since 2014. Breakaway 3937 co-director Tod Traughber said it was a big a deal that the competition was brought back to campus
“We are so incredibly blessed and grateful that Dr. Burks and Harding University are allowing us to bring it back to Searcy,” Traughber said. “Hopefully it is a win-win for everybody. For Breakaway to be able to host in our home is a big deal. We are bringing upwards of 800 kids to Harding University to compete at this event, so hopefully Harding will see that and recognize that this is a good public relations event for the University itself in addition to all the money that they are going to spend into our economy.”
Traughber explained the significance of this regional and the journey to the world championships. Traughber said all the regional tournaments around the world are world championship qualifying events, which occur in a seven-week span. Teams compete in these regionals to earn a spot in the world championships. The Arkansas regional is a week five event, hosting 20 teams this year.
Traughber said Breakaway won an award called the “Engineering Inspiration Award” earlier in the season, which qualified them for a worlds tournament.
“We are entering into this tournament without the pressure of having to win,” Traughber said. “Instead, we’re using this as a wonderful tool up and practice round, so that we’re best prepared for worlds.”
University freshman Aubrey Jones, former member of Breakaway, said being a part of the robotics team is a great experience for students and stays with them after their time on the team has ended.
“My favorite part of being on Breakaway was the community we built,” Jones said. “The nature of competitions are such that we spend so much time together as a team, which builds really strong relationships.”
The world championships for FIRST Robotics will be April 21-23 in Houston, Texas.