From the outside, Plymouth North High School in Ohio seemed quiet, but in the engineering lab at the back of the school, more than 100 people had gathered around an enclosed arena to witness a fight.


“Five, four, three, two, one – and fight, robots! Fight!” shouted the referee as the spinning blade of The Juggernaut attacked the speedy battlebot Good Night. The scene was repeated throughout the day as 25 teams from East Coast high schools and colleges competed in “The Rumble at the Rock,” a combat robot competition under the aegis of BotsIQ, a high school and college robotics education program based on the Comedy Central show “BattleBots.” The program trains teachers, provides curriculums and hosts events, including a national competition in April. Michael Bastoni, a science, technology and engineering teacher at Plymouth North, organized the competition.


“We made engineering a high school varsity sport here today,” Bastoni said. “It’s as definable as a football field, a gridiron or a baseball field, and now it’s a robot-fighting arena. Everyone is fighting to learn more.”

 

Students design and build their robots. They must follow 37 pages of technical rules and pass an inspection process before competing.


“The great thing is that they have to use their imagination, they have to use a body of knowledge, and then they have to go out and get other knowledge,” said Nola Garcia, a founder of BotsIQ.


The competition pits two robots against each other in three-minute matches. Using remote controls, students and try to get their robot to destroy the opponent.

 

“It’s pretty exciting. You get a rush every time,” said Laura Spinelli, a student at the Bergen County Academy in Hackensack, N.J. Her team was undefeated and won the nine-hour competition.

 

“It’s really nerve-racking, but it’s worth it,” said Andrew Crudge, who controlled the Bergen County Academy’s robot, named Good Night. Denise Perez-Botts of Cohasset came to the competition to watch her nephew Anthony Ruiz compete. He came with his team, the Columbus Explorers, from Columbus High School in Miami.

 

“It’s awesome. I am so proud of my nephew,” said Perez-Botts, who had never seen a robotics competition before. “These are young high school students. It’s just amazing that they have the knowledge. ... They build these robots all from scratch.”

 

Teams build their robots with different characteristics and capabilities. Weapons include spinning blades, stationary and lifting wedges, plows and spikes. Good Night had a low wedge and four-wheel drive, which allowed it to drive under most of its competition.


The arena, a clear-plastic-enclosed cage, was built by Plymouth North students and was used for the first time last year at the national competition in Miami. Entergy Corp., owner of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, sponsors the 15-year-old Plymouth North program and paid for the construction of the arena.


Kevin Arruda, who graduated from Plymouth North last year, returned to compete with his old team. “It’s just a blast. ... It’s just engineering fun,” he said.


Arruda and his teammates are now freshmen studying engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Deb Lavoi of Braintree watched her son Nathan, a student at Blue Hills Vocational Technical High School in Canton, compete with a robot his club built in three days.

 

“We lived in Florida and used to watch ‘BattleBots’ and now he’s actually doing it. It’s really cool, really impressive,” Lavoi said. “It’s amazing what these kids are capable of.”

 

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