MOUNT VERNON — Robots stormed castle strongholds Saturday during a competition in front of a few thousand people at the Mount Vernon High School gym.

The event, part of the Pacific Northwest Division FIRST Robotics Competition, featured 35 teams of high school robotics competitors, including squads from Mount Vernon, Anacortes and Sedro-Woolley.

On a playing area about 50 feet long and about 25 feet wide, teams battled to score points by completing tasks with their robotic machines.

Teams are given six weeks to design and build their robots from scratch before competitions begin.

The FIRST Robotics Competition introduces a new playing field configuration and competition scenario each year.

Mike Criner, a Mount Vernon High School teacher and robotics team adviser, said competitive robotics helps build students’ teamwork and problem-solving skills.

The international youth organization that operates the competition — called FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is known for the cooperative philosophy it encourages among participants, highlighted by the term “gracious professionalism,” Criner said.

He said one of his favorite things about the live events is the chance to watch his students learn and grow.

“You just walk around and you feel the positive energy around this,” Criner said.

Before bringing its robot out to the gym, a team from Anacortes High School called the “Cyborg Ferrets” prepped for battle in a nearby multipurpose room referred to as the “pit.”

Nico Smit, an 18-year-old senior, said he enjoys the thought and time that goes into building a robot for the competition.

“I’ve always been mechanically minded,” he said. “I always worked with my hands as a kid.”

Teammate Ian Doebler, a 16-year-old sophomore, said he became interested in robotics after he was injured during a wrestling match in 2015, coincidentally held in the gym at Mount Vernon High School.

Doebler, who intends to pursue a career in machining or mechanical engineering, said he plans to continue with the team until he graduates high school, then possibly stay on as a mentor.

“I enjoy it that much,” he said.

Kathryn Coryell, a 14-year-old freshman, said she caught her first glimpse of a FIRST Robotics Competition robot while at an antique fair with her father in downtown Anacortes.

She was instantly hooked, she said.

“I like getting to use the tools to building things, and I really enjoy everything about it,” she said.

The regional robotics events lead to district and national championships held later on.

The competition in Mount Vernon continues from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

— Reporter Evan Marczynski, 360-416-2149,, Twitter: @Evan_SVH,

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