Chin-Tang Liu guides Timothy Tigertail and Cordell Baxter as they compete in their first round. (Jenna Kopec)

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Ahfachkee School robotics team competed in the South Florida FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics League Championship on Jan. 13 at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

Chin-Tang Liu, the team’s coach and STEM teacher at Ahfachkee, said he is very proud of the amazing students he has and the progress they’ve made so quickly. In the two previous tournaments, the team went from placing 28th to fifth.

One of those students is ninth-grader Cordell Baxter, who drove the team’s robot competitively for the first time at the tournament.

“He was amazing,” Liu said. “He was great at handling the pressure.”

Baxter, who joined the team because of his interest in science, said he plans to remain a part of the team next year.

“It’s fun,” Baxter said. “Nobody really gets an opportunity to do something like this.”

Philip Baer, assistant principal at Ahfachkee, said the tournament has really helped the students come out of their shells.

From left to right, Philip Baer, Timothy Tigertail, Johnnie Russell, Kathy Dixon, Michele Horrell, Cordell Baxter, Chin-Tang Liu and Anthony Wells. (Jenna Kopec)

“The reservation is kind of quiet and that can be kind of overwhelming at first,” he explained. “But after the first tournament we’ve really seen them open up.”

For that reason, Baer hopes that more students will join the program and attend competitions next year. He’s also impressed with the students’ abilities.

“As long it’s [the robot] moving, I would have been good,” Baer said. “They’re doing well.”

The team, a mixture of middle and high school students, competed against several schools, many of which had more experience in the competition. Matches took place in a 12-foot area, where four teams aimed and moved objects and scored points, pairing off into two team alliances. Ahfachkee won their two first rounds in the qualification matches.

“[Next year, I hope] more people sign up so we can grow in our knowledge,” said Timothy Tigertail, an eighth-grade student who hopes to become a computer engineer one day.

Liu also looks forward to building the robotics community at Ahfachkee and helping the students learn about what it takes to build these machines. Although he’s started building a second robot with students, he said he still plans to build at least one more before entering competition next year.

“We are here to learn and work together,” he explained. “It’s not about the end score, it’s about the experience.”

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