Oakboro Aquanauts team overcomes underwater obstacles at International SeaPerch Challenge

Out of roughly 60 middle school teams that competed last weekend in the international robotics competition held at the University of Maryland, the three-person Oakboro Choice STEM team performed well, placing 27th, according to school STEM Coach Jennifer Crawford.

Noah Waits, Arabella Smith and Aubrey Porter qualified for the International SeaPerch Challenge Competition after winning regionals at UNC Charlotte in late March. Porter could not attend the competition in Maryland and so Mary Crawford took her place.

The competition involves SeaPerch, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) the team built from scratch.

Held at the pool inside Maryland’s Eppley Recreation Center, the Oakboro team competed in two categories. It had to complete an obstacle course, where the submerged ROV traveled through large rings oriented at various angles, and a mission course, which involved tasks related to ocean exploration such as mapping the seafloor, marine live interaction and target and water sample.

The Oakboro team, known as the Aquanauts, completed the obstacle course in 1 minute and 53 seconds, according to Crawford, and finished the mission course in 6 minutes and 30 seconds. All scores were the team’s personal bests.

Oakboro students Noah Waits and Arabella Smith control their ROV as it maneuvers through various underwater obstacles. Photo courtesy of RoboNation Photographer.

“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids,” Crawford said in an email. “Getting the chance to step back and watch your team shine is the goal for every coach. Once the team found out they had received the Competition Bid, they spent every spare minute in the STEM lab preparing. Their hard work and perseverance definitely paid off.”

“Our SeaPerch Aquanauts were the best of the best this season and they represented Stanly County in spectacular fashion on the world stage,” Crawford added.

“We are so proud of your accomplishments and how well you represented OCSS and Stanly County Schools at the International SeaPerch Competition,” Oakboro Choice STEM wrote on Facebook. The school also posted a 35-second clip showing the students maneuvering their craft through several underwater obstacles.

Though the team did not qualify for any awards, the students still enjoyed the experience of competing with other students from across the world, including Brazil, New Zealand and China.

“It meant a lot to me to make it to the international competition, in terms that it was a once in a lifetime experience,” Waits said.

When asked about the best part of the experience, Smith said it was spending time in Maryland.

“I love traveling,” she said.

As rising freshmen, Waits and Crawford both want to form a SeaPerch team at Stanly Early College. Smith, who will be an eighth grader next year, also wants to compete on another Oakboro SeaPerch team.

While the students were disappointed to not win an award, Crawford said a parent explained it in a way that made sense to everyone.

“It is not a failure to make it to the Olympics, even if they never stand on the podium,” Crawford recalled the parent told the team.

Crawford appreciated all of the financial support from so many people and organizations, including the Greater Oakboro Business Association (GOBA) for making it possible for her and the team to compete in Maryland. The team raised $2,815, which covered registration fees and lodging.

“It was truly humbling to receive that kind of support on such short notice,” she said.