FAIRMOUNT – When Sarah Jarvis gave birth to her son Ethan Jarvis, now a seventh-grader at Frankton Jr.-Sr. High School, she certainly expected to be a sports mom.

She is, but in a way she didn’t expect. Rather than sitting in bleachers at basketball or baseball games, Jarvis finds herself cheering Ethan on at VEX robotics meets.

“My son was never really sports-oriented, but then he found this, and it’s definitely his niche,” she said. “It’s a whole new world that I didn’t know anything about. It’s definitely a different process than trying out for other sports.”

Ethan was one of hundreds of students from 32 schools competing in the second VEX robotics competition Saturday at Madison-Grant Jr.–Sr. High School. Each team competed eight times before the victors moved on to the finals.

Other Madison County teams came from the host school and from Alexandria Community Schools.

Her favorite part, Jarvis said, is seeing the smiles on the students’ faces when they make a breakthrough in the operation of their robot.

“It’s really cool to watch them grow,” she said.

Last April, Ethan and his team made it to the VEX Robotics World Championships, where they met other kids from China who shared that similar interest, Jarvis said. They figured out how to download Google Translate so they could communicate, one of many opportunities Jarvis said she never imagined her son would have, coming from such a small community.

Garek Ellis, 14, a member of Frankton’s team, had completed only two of the eight competitions before noon.

“I’m hoping we do better than we have so far today and we get into the finals,” he said.

Ethan, who is in his second year of robotics, said part of the challenge was in changes made to their robot over the previous few days in which they exchanged one problem for another in their trial-and-error process.

“We’ve recently had a design change because the back part was too heavy. We took some stuff off to make it lighter so it would be quicker,” he said. That created a problem with the lift.

Madison-Grant chemistry teacher Eric Cale was one of the organizers of the event. The school is in its second year of having a robotics team after one was started at Park Elementary School. Students there emailed Cale to ask whether he could sponsor a team when they rose to the junior high.

“It’s fun to see them try to put things together and try to come up with solutions to their robots’ problems,” he said.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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