Chase Kent was out cleaning the grill when he got a phone call.
“Are you watching the awards?” he was asked. He said no.
In May, a live-streamed world championship awards ceremony listed a team from Celina as among its award winners: Kent’s sons were the reason why.
Chase and Landon Kent won a Build Award, a top award from the VEX Robotics World Championship for a robot they built at home.
When it came to the world championship, Chad Kent had assumed they were out of their league. After all, it was Chase and Landon’s first year participating in the competitions, and the sixth-graders, barely making it into the middle school division based on birthday restrictions, were arguably the youngest to be competing in their group.
On the other hand, Chase and Landon are quick to remind their dad that whenever he assumes they won’t win certain baseball games, they win every time.
For the Kents, the story begins with Chad looking for something robot-related his sons could get involved in.
“I just loved to play around with Lego sets and create, you know, remote control cars and all that,” Chase said. “I would just create a lot of cool mechanical knickknacks, and I think dad saw that I really liked that, and he just heard of VEX and he thought it was a good idea because I seemed to like robotics.”
The VEX competitions introduce a certain “game” that changes each year. Competitors have to build a robot that can achieve the goals of the game, such as stacking spheres in a certain order.
After getting their feet wet, the team headed to their first competition in Granbury, Texas, armed with nothing more than what would be the first of many robot iterations and a bare-minimum understanding of what to expect. Mid-competition, Chase and Landon found themselves troubleshooting their bot in the 10 to 20 minutes between matches and navigating the tricky element of making alliances with other teams. In the end, however, they found themselves selected to compete in the final bracket that day.
“That was when we realized that we were actually pretty good,” Chase said.
Over time, they continued attending tournaments in the region, honing their bot and navigating the alliance-making element. A shortage of middle school-level tournaments meant Chase and Landon were often competing at the high school level with teenagers who would roll no punches when it came to robot warfare against 11-year-olds.
That also meant forging alliances. While Chase was busy fixing the robot in between matches, Landon was in charge of convincing high school teams to join up with sixth-graders — and they did. By the end of the year, as competitors worked toward qualifying for the state tournament, Chase and Landon were chosen by other teams for alliances.
“And they picked them because they thought they were their ticket to state,” Chad said. “Which is impressive when you’re talking about, again, juniors and seniors in high school going, ‘You know what, those sixth-graders are the ones we want.’”
Eventually, the Celina two won a state championship excellence award, securing their spot at the VEX Robotics World Championship and earning a plus-size banner that now hangs at home.
Now that Chase and Landon are gearing up for the next year of VEX tournaments, they have a broader goal in mind: they want to help other local students who might be looking to get involved.
“One of the reasons why we did so well this year was we got so much help from the other teams, and they showed us what was wrong with our bot so that we didn’t have to see it go wrong in the game, we could fix it once they showed us why it would be wrong,” Landon said.
Now, he said, they want to take what they learned and transfer that knowledge to local teams to help them get started.
“We want to make everyone we’re competing against at a higher level, because we want to make everyone better so it forces us to be better and make us all better for worlds,” Chase added.