Robotics teams from San Fernando Valley high and middle schools competed in the first-ever Pierce College Vex Robotics Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 26,
Robotics teams from San Fernando Valley high and middle schools competed in the first-ever Pierce College Vex Robotics Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 in Woodland Hills. The competition required teams to use robots to move around while picking up and placing small bean-bags on a scoring table. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

PHOTOS


Up, up. Right. Left. Down.

Pierce College hosted its first-ever Vex Robotics Sack Attack Tournament on Saturday pitting nine teams of students from middle to high schools against one another in a battle of the bots.

Tournament organizer Eldon Schoop, president of the Pierce College Robotics Club and a 17-year-old engineer prodigy who currently attends the community college, said the tournament is just one way to prepare the next generation for the new generation of technology.

"Robotics, in general, is a really great way to get kids interested in science technology, engineering and math," Eldon said. "A lot of people who compete here end up in engineering schools, end up at engineering firms and doing these great big things."

The best part of what many may consider a really geeky activity, Eldon added, is that the tournaments are setup like a sporting event. Amidst a cheering crowd, students pressed buttons on a console much like they would in a video game to direct robots akin to Pixar Animation Studio's lovable WALL-E, the space-aged robot that compacted trash.

"It's great the kids are exposed to this kind of technology," said Luanne Villanueva of Carson, whose son was competing Saturday. "It's fun for them, but a great educational experience, too."

Villanueva's son, 11-year-old Nathaniel, was just one of more than a dozen students representing St. Barnabas Parish School in Long Beach. The school sent two teams of sixth- to eighth-graders, the youngest to compete in Saturday's tournament.

"I really like Legos and used to build robot looking things out of them, so I just thought it would be cool to actually build a real robot," said 12-year-old Levi VanFleet of Long Beach.

A robot tries to pick up bean bags. Robotics teams from San Fernando Valley high and middle schools  competed in the first-ever Pierce College Vex Robotics
A robot tries to pick up bean bags. Robotics teams from San Fernando Valley high and middle schools competed in the first-ever Pierce College Vex Robotics Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 in Woodland Hills. The competition required teams to use robots to move around while picking up and placing small bean-bags on a scoring table. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)
"And we're doing pretty good here.

"It's been fun."

Danielle Santos, 13, also a St. Barnabas team member, said constructing the robots from scratch had been particularly rewarding.

"I've been able to hang out with my friends on Saturdays building the robot, doing things we've never done before," she said. "It's been a great experience for me."

Jacky Lopez, a 17-year-old senior at Reseda High School, said events like the Vex Robotics Sack Attack Tournament have been life-changing.

"It teaches you a lot about yourself, actually, and for me it made me change my career interests," said Jacky, who once aspired to be an officer in the U.S. Navy but now wanted to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. "I never thought I'd be capable to do something like this."

For fellow teammate Tommy Brown, the experience solidified his longtime interest in the field.

"I've always wanted to be a mechanical engineer and this has allowed me to get a little bit of a head start on my competition for college," said the 18-year-old Reseda High School senior.

Tommy added that the experience has provided him a glimpse of "what I'm actually going to be doing in the future."

And students like Tommy may just be what the world will need to invent the next big thing.

"The next Steve Jobs?" Eldon said. "You just never know."

mariecar.mendoza@dailynews.com

818-713-3623

twitter.com/LADNMarMendoza