Technology, strategy, and community were all on display at Chess & Community‘s second robotic competition.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit organization collaborated with Clarke County School District to provide kids with a series of robotic challenges at the Athens Community Career Academy. Seven groups competed in assembling a chessboard using a robot, directing a robot through a maze, and more.

Lemuel “Life” LaRoche, executive director of Chess & Community, said the competition was a part of the nonprofit’s Pawn Accelerator program, which expanded from looking to provide kids more innovative activities during the pandemic.

“We’re an organization — Chess & Community — that’s real physical,” LaRoche said. “We like to take kids out and do things together. We saw there was a need for creating something where we could at least get them into small groups.”

The final challenge included a speed chess competition where one team was eventually declared the victor.

“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” Freddrell Green, a 16-year-old member of the winning team, said. “I feel like I climbed the highest mountain possible. Like I just aced the final test for that one class I can not get through.”

While Green and his team won the competition the event still provided a learning experience for all involved.

Aja Allen, program director of Pawn Accelerator, said the kids spent a month in their teams preparing their robots for the competition. She said the program has also grown from a small group of kids in October to well over 30.

Allen said the technical skills of coding and learning chess were important, but they also wanted to make sure the kids learned soft skills like leadership, critical thinking, and communication. She said these would be important skills for future jobs in the STEM field.

“It’s just amazing to see the kids get something out of it,” Allen said. “It’s a good feeling to see where it is now since that first program.”

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